I KNOW NOTHING

HOGAN’S HEROES was a weekly prime sitcom consisting of 168 episodes running from 1965 until 1971. Set in a German POW camp, it’s humor revolved around an inventive group of Allied POW’s outwitting the inept group of German overseers. It scripts and cast continue to amuse us even today on cable.

This reblog is from 2014. While it doesn’t deal with the TV show directly, it hits on my experience of the show’s acceptance on 2 former POWs and also a time Leonard Nimoy asked a question..,and was sorry he did..

One reason for the reblog is the excellent work being done by John Holton in his blog The Sound of One Hand Clapping. After a post on the Allied characters/actors, and another on the German characters/actors, John is writing a complete synopsis of each of the 168 episodes. Fine, entertaining writing, whether or not you are familiar with the show or not.

https://thesoundofonehandtyping.com/hogans-heroes-episode-index/

-Schultz-hogans-heroes-I Know Nooothing

On Memorial day weekend (2014) I read an angry letter posted on the web. The writer, a young (?) Politically Correct activist was railing out against the fact the old TV comedy, HOGAN’S HEROES, was still being shown on cable TV. She felt it was a great disservice to all those who were POW’s of the Germans in WWII. She wanted the series to be hidden away like the old AMOS & ANDY SHOW. In a way I could see her point; but… (It was the first TV show where Black actors had main roles along with the White actors.)

Two of my favorite coworkers at the Guthrie Theatre spent a large part of WWII as prisoners of war in German camps. Chuck Wallen, an American, was a stagehand and set carpenter at the Guthrie. Michael Langham, an Englishman, was the Artistic Director of the theatre. They were in different camps but they both had similar experiences during their years as prisoners.

Chuck, an Air Corps navigator, was on his first bombing run when the plane was shot down. He parachuted out, landed in a cow pasture and broke his back. A village doctor set Chuck’s back as best he could, but the setting would have left Chuck unable to ever stand straight again. A German doctor, seeing the problem, fought red tape and got Chuck to a hospital where the doctor rebroke the back and set it correctly. Chuck spent the rest of the war in a POW camp in Germany, but at least he could stand straight.

Growing up, Michael Langham’s hero was the Duke of Wellington. Because of this, Michael  went to Officers’ Training School where he received an officer’s commission just in time to take part in the final days of the Battle of Dunkirk, namely the retreat to the beach. When the Miracle of Dunkirk was accomplished, Michael was not one of the lucky ones that were transported back to England. He was in the group that missed the boats and were captured by the Germans and placed in a POW camp, where he spent the duration of the war that he really never got to know first hand.

It was the camp where the Great Escape took place, although the tunnel was in a different barracks and Michael was not involved or even aware of what was going on. To kill time in the camp, Michael joined the theatrical group. Sometimes Michael acted, sometimes Michael directed. By the time the camp was liberated, Michael no longer thought of himself as the next Duke of Wellington. Instead, he pursued a career in the theatre, substituting Tyrone Guthrie for the Duke of Wellington as a role model.

It was the years of HOGAN’S HEROES in prime time. The day after each new episode aired, Michael would make his way down to the shop where he and Chuck would spend about a half hour or so going over the episode, laughing and comparing characters on both sides of camp to people in their camps. Since I was working the show the nights the series aired I never got to see it until years later in reruns. Sometimes though when I was working during a day when Chuck and Michael got together, I was privileged to listen to those two reminisce.

So, now when I find myself laughing at the antics of Hogan and the gang, I don’t feel any guilt. After all, two members of the Greatest Generation, who had first hand experience in POW camps laughed at the same antics many years ago.

On the other hand, another favorite acquaintance, Jim Daly, who survived the Bataan Death March and the ensuing years in a POW camp in the Philippines, would not have found anything funny during his hell on earth.

  

We doing a week of VINCENT in Scottsdale, Arizona about nine months after Bob Crane, Hogan of HOGAN’S HEROES, was murdered in this posh city of many rich retirees. Mr. ‘Just Call Me Bob’ Herberger, founder of the Herberger’s department store chain put on a big fete for us at his house. He had enjoyed the play and especially liked the fact that it came from the Guthrie in his home state of Minnesota. I think he spent more time talking with another Minnesota native, namely me, as he did hobnobbing with Leonard Nimoy, the star of VINCENT. It was a fun time with only one slight bump in the road.

Almost all of Mr. Herberger’s invitees were, like him, enjoying their retirement in the land of the sun. There wasn’t a Ford or a Chevy mixed in with the Rolls and Caddies, and although the it was Arizona casual dress, it wasn’t the casual dress wear that came off the rack at a Herberger’s Department Store.

There was one group of men that seemed to hang together. They looked like they could have been extras in THE GODFATHER. Maybe one of them brought the cannoli to the party. A couple of them were more interested in talking to Leonard about Dr. (sic) Spock than about Van Gogh, something that always irritated Leonard; but he remained a gentleman and answered their questions about Spock and STAR TREK as the old timers wanted.

Then Leonard asked them a question. ‘You know, Bob Crane and I use to be friends back in the days we were auditioning for jobs, and then when we both were in hit shows. Hadn’t seen him years though. Now,’ Leonard said in a quiet voice, ‘What’s the real skinny on Crane’s murder?’

You don’t yell fire in a theater, and you don’t ask these old men about murder. Their silence was deafening. They didn’t have to talk. They just gave Nimoy  – the look. Finally one of them spoke up in a raspy whisper. ‘Don’t ask about that guy again around here. You don’t want to know! Understand?’ Leonard nodded and the subject was dropped. He smiled at the group of men and left to get a refill on his Beefeater’s martini.

In the words of Sergeant Schultz, ‘I know nothing.

CHARLES GRODIN – R.I.P.

Actor, Author, Director, Talk Show Guest Extraordinaire, Talk Show Host, Political Activist

And a Great Guy to to be around

In the spring of 1972, Charles Grodin was filming The Heart Break Kid, his first starring picture. He had had a great many small parts in TV and two small roles in movies. He played an inept buffon who turns into a rapist/murderer in Catch 22 and he played the doctor who delivers the ‘Baby’ in Rosemary’s Baby’. Hardly roles that foretold his future as a fine likable comic actor.

In that same spring, I had the pleasure of working for a month or so on the film portion of Heart Break Kid that finished the filming in Minneapolis after filming the first half in Florida. Up until then, I only had a little filming experience in a few TV ads, a local documentary, and two days working a car chase in Slaughter House Five. None of which foretold of the fun I had in spite of working the long hours, the exhausting labor, having to work under three jerks from the New York film local… fun because Charles Grodin brought a great sense of humor and reality to the proceedings.

Charles greeted everyone that came on the set the first time, shaking their hand, asking their name; and he never forgot their name, or failed to talk to them. When things got rough, Charles lightened things up, sometimes with intellectual humor, sometimes with a little corn.

For instance, one day after a hard rain, I was laying out heavy electrical cable, slogging through the mud. It was one of those times I wished I was back home at the Guthrie, which was dark for several months, in spite of the big bucks earned working the movie. Charles walked by and stopped and watched for a bit.

‘Just remember, Don’, he said and he burst into singing, There’s no business like show business’.

I flashed him a one finger salute and he laughed and went on his way still singing the song, ‘They smile when they are low…’

He played to a much larger audience when we were filming the marriage scene. It took place in a small church and the actual minister of the church performed the fake marriage. He thought that being in a movie would be fun. The ‘guests’ in the church had answered an ad asking for extras. They thought being in a movie would be fun. The cast and crew knew different; but we were being paid, they were not.

Elaine May, the director, was in a ‘Cut! Take it again from the top’ mood. After a few cuts, the minister looked at his watch and the audience gave a collective sigh of ‘oh no, not again’.

After another cut, Charles spoke to the guests. ‘See, folks, this is how movies are made. Sometimes filming a scene of a movie marriage lasts longer than some real Hollywood marriages.’ The crowd laughed and settled back. The minister looked at his watch. And Elaine said ‘Take it from the top.’

After a couple more takes we heard the welcome words, ‘That’s a wrap.’ The guests began to leave and the minister looked at his watch again. This time he smiled.

But Charles wasn’t through. ‘Folks. Folks,’ he said, and the guests sat back down. ‘I wanted to explain that our minister isn’t an actor but the actual pastor of this church. And the reason he kept looking at his watch is because in a short time he has a rehearsal of an actual wedding that will take place here on Saturday. He was getting nervous we wouldn’t finish up in time and he also realized that if he flubs his lines at the real wedding, nobody is going to yell ‘Cut. Take it from the top.’ The guests laughed.

Oh,’ Charles added, ‘He also wants you to know that you are welcome to stay and watch the real rehearsal.’ That got a big laugh from both the ‘guests’ and the minister.

Charles was a god- sent for Cybill Shepard. This was only the second movie for Cybill. Her first movie, The Last Picture Show, propelled her into a circle that was totally different from her successful teenage modeling career.. Plus she didn’t have her mentor, and current lover, Peter Bogdanovitch, holding her hand like in her first movie. He wanted to come along with her, but Elaine May said no way. It was also Elaine’s second movie as a director and she didn’t need Bogdanovitch interfering.

In her first movie experience, A New Leaf, she was screenwriter, director, lead actress, and had Walter Matthau as her costar and hand holder. It was critically praised and a tough act to follow.

The only true movie vet in the cast was Eddie Albert. Although his acting background was more in TV than films, he had been nominated for an Oscar seventeen years before. (He would receive and another Oscar nomination for his brilliant performance in Heartbreak Kid.)

Eddie was not on the set when he wasn’t in the scene being filmed. During off hours Eddie was busy catching up with old friends from his college days at the University of Minnesota.

Eddie was more than happy to help Cybill with her acting, but she needed someone to help with her insecurity about acting…and life in general. She was only four years removed from high school. This is where Charles and his humor saved the day. He always managed to get her to relax before a scene by cracking jokes. He also found time to listen and advice her.

And Elaine May was no stranger to his method of easing tension. Both Elaine and her former partner in the great improv- comedic duo of Nichols and May, Mike Nichols had been so impressed when they saw Chuck Grodin on Broadway, that they both used him as soon as they could. Nichols in his Catch 22. May in her Heartbreak Kid.

Both of these roles were great risks to him because of the dark character he portrayed and could have poisoned him with the public and future producers. He took them both in gratitude to Nichols and May for believing in him.

Elaine May soon discovered that not only did he have the talent needed to create his character, Lennie, as a jerk, who would not alienate the movie goers, he was also a wonderful friend to work with. He always seemed to know what to say and when to say it.

The key grip had been involved in the Florida filming. He told me how in the first few days, the screenwriter, Neal Simon, a celebrated veteran of stage and screen, thought he was the last word in this film and tried influence May’s decisions and methods. And also, Peter Bogdanovitch, via phone to both her and Cybill, tried to influence how Cybill should act in her role and how Cybill should be treated.

Elaine stood up to both these men and told them to butt out. And Charles spoke up and backed her ultimatum to these two pests. His actions against these two influential men could have hurt both his movie and his stage career. But he did what he thought was right.

Mission accomplished. Elaine was left to direct her movie and guide Cybill in such a way as to get a fine performance from her, and helped the young actress develop confidence in herself.

Charles Grodin went on to a successful career in movies. Robert De Niro, his costar in Midnight Run, praised Grodin, not only as an actor, but as a funny intellectual person that improved the movie with his suggestions and ad libs. He credited Grodin for making the film a success. And the two became life long friends. I imagine a great many who worked with him agree with De Niro.

Charles excelled in many more fields in the Arts and as an advocate for Human Rights. Sad to say I never had the pleasure of working with him after Heart Break Kid. I would have jumped at the chance to work with him again.

And now we have lost another fine human being who enriched our lives, but left us a fine legacy of his accomplishment… and for lucky ones like me, good memories of having known him.

R.I.P. Charles Grodin.

You can read more about the filming of Heartbreak Kid, in my blog post https://donostertag.wordpress.com/2019/06/19/holy-week-1972/

LAST TRAIN OUT

There was four of us working in the boxcars for the Russian Circus Load Out. There was Joey B., my partner at the Guthrie, and always fun to work with. And an oldtimer, Big Ike. Surly and strong. You overlooked his zero personality because he loved to show off his strength and would always pick up the heaviest thing around. And then there was Mike, our handicap.

Mike was a young apprentice that worked harder to get out of work than if he just did the work. It wasn’t what he wanted in life. His family forced him into being a stagehand like his father and brother. He could screw up a one car funeral procession. His big ambition in life was to be a milkman. He believed in the urban legend that some milkmen delivered more than bottles and butter to lonely women on their route. He did a lot of day dreaming and his dreams always wore skirts.

There were three boxcars waiting for us on the spur. It made sense that the first things loaded were the four bears in their cages. What didn’t make sense was the cages went into the middle car and the cages were open without their metal sides. We couldn’t use the dock because there were the personal steamer trunks and wardrobe boxes clogging up the center of the dock. It was easier just to go through the bears’ car. There was plenty room to walk without a bear actually hitting you with it’s paw, but it still made you jump every time one swung at you.

One of the bear trainers was giving them food and water. Ike bellowed and pointed to the metal sides that were underneath each cage and demanded they be put on the cages. The trainer told Ike nyet and continued his chores. That got Big Ike mad. He swore at the trainer, called him a snuffing Commie and now, not only did we have bears to watch out for, we had an angry Ike.

It didn’t take much to get Ike mad. He’d could get mad at a snuffing falling leaf.

Big Ike only feared one person… his wife. She allowed him to smoke a pipe in the house but not to use vulgar language or drink in the house. He obeyed her rules. Instead of the common swear words, he came up with one of his own, ‘snuff’, complete with all the variations. And he quenched his thirst for whiskey by keeping his jugs of Four Roses out in the garage. Even after his wife died, Ike never used ‘vulgar words’ nor drank in the house but walked out to the garage quite often.

Henri, the French-Canadian road carpenter, my far, far cousin came out with the first load of equipment, to explain what to expect and to introduce us to the Russian stagehand who would, through a very little English and a lot of finger pointing, tell us how the pack went.

Ike got in Henri’s face right away about the snuffing Commie bears.

Henri explained, before he and the trainer left, that the trainers told him the bears would not go to sleep in the dark cages and needed fresh air. He also said that there was something in the food that would put the bears to sleep. That was evident because the two bears that had gobbled down their meal were now curled up in the far corner of their cage fast asleep. The two who did not eat were awake and pacing back and forth in their cages, stopping only to reach out at us when we walked by. Then one of them decided to eat and he went out like a light.

That only left one bear awake to swing at us.

Ike bellowed at bear to eat and go to sleep, but to no avail. The bear seemed to be having too much fun watching us jump every time he pawed at us.

Then, Joey B. figured out that maybe this was the bear that Richie had given cigarettes to, the one that like to chew on tobacco. Joey threw the bear a cigarette. Joe smoked filtered menthols and after the first taste, the bear spit it out and growled.

I quickly reached in my shirt and threw him a straight Pall Mall. That was more like it. I could swear the bear nodded his head to thank me as he chewed on my cigarette.

One problem though, now the bear wanted another cigarette every time he saw us. I said that I wasn’t going to give the bear all my smokes. Big Ike said all he had was pipe tobacco and just enough left in his pouch for two more pipe fills. Joey shrugged and said all his cigarettes did was make the bear angry.

The three of us turned to Mike. We had seen him smoking a roll-you-own when he got out of his car. We told him to roll one for the bear.

Mike thought that would be a great idea. The bear would really like it. He took a paper and his draw-string bag.

Snuff it,’ shouted Big Ike, grabbing the bag out of Mike’s hand, ‘Give him the whole snuffing thing.’ And he threw the bag into the cage.

‘No,’ screamed Mike, ‘That’s a dime bag! That cost a lot of money.’

Ike bellowed, ‘A dime ain’t a lot of money, you snuffing dehorn!’

Then I tried to explain to Ike that dime bag wasn’t tobacco. It was grass. Ike just frowned at me.

Then Joey B. took over the expiation. ‘Grass, Ike. You know wacky-tabaky, Mary Jane, merry-wa-na.’

‘Drugs! You doing snuffing drugs, kid!’ He made a gesture as if to slap Mike. ‘Does your dad know you are a snuffing druggie? You a snuffing hippie beetlenic like Richie? Sit around smoking that snuffing dope and banging on bingo drums. No wonder you’re such a snuffing bad stagehand. Drink whiskey like the rest of us do and straighten up!’

The Russian hand said something and pointed to the bear, who was chewing on the bag. The draw-string hanging out of his mouth. He hadn’t spit out the bag. Instead, he was sitting on his haunches, chewing slowly, looking at us. Joey B. said he was positive the bear had a grin on his face.

The rest of the night, the bear did not move from the spot. Every time we walked by he just looked up, his eyes half shut, chewing slowly on Mike’s dime bag.

‘You know, Joey,’ Ike said, ‘I think the snuffer is grinning.’

As we were wrapping up the load, a train engine backed along the rails to the cars. A car drove up and Henri and the smaller one of the bear trainers got out. The trainer went into the bear car and opened up a sleeping cot. The Russian hand closed all the doors on the sides of the box cars.

Henri thanked thre three hands and his ‘Cousin Donny.’ Mike jumped off the dock and ran to his car. He had told us earlier that there was a girl who promised to leave the door unlocked for him.

The Russian stagehand shook hands with Joey and me and told us pasib.

Big Ike refused to shake hands with a snuffing Commie.

And then he spoke in broken English. ‘Russia, no choo-choo. Trucks. Better.’

‘Another great Russian invention like putting casters on boxes,’ I said, shaking my head. ‘Trucks to haul show biz, not trains. We’ll have to remember that. Pasib. Pasib.’

The engine made a loud bang as it coupled into the first car. The railroad man that had been watching the couple connect, ran and jumped into the engine. He waved at us as the train pulled away.

I turned to Joey B. and Ike and commented that might be the last time any one of us work a train load out.

‘We thought the same things when the last Met Opera train left,’ Joey B. said.

‘Yeah, kid, maybe’ Big Ike said. ‘But the longer you stay in this snuffing business the more you learn to never say never.’

‘Yup,’ Joey B. added, ‘And you never say goodbye to any other stagehand because chances are even if they go far away, someday you’ll probably be working with them again. You say see ya.’

Snuffing right,’ Big Ike agreed, and the three of us said, see ya, and walked to our vehicles.

Joey B. and I had a lot more fun years together until he retired, moved to Ensanada, Mexico, and bought into a fishing boat. Big Ike’s arthritis caught up with him a few years later and he moved to Arizona, hoping the sun would ease the pain. Mike! About a month after the train, his bad stagehanding reached the limit and his father stood up at a union meeting and proposed we take away his son’s apprentice card. Mike moved to California. Never got a milk route but last we heard he was the promoter for an All Girls Celebrity Softball team.

I got in my pickup and watched until the lights of the train disappeared in the early morning darkness.

And in spite of what Big Ike said

that was our Last Train Out.

LAST TRAIN IN

It had been over ten year since a show came into town via the railroad. The notification to the Local that a circus was coming via the rails was a surprise. Our circuses, even big ones like Ringling Brothers. had long since gone over completely to trucks. But then when it said it was the Moscow Circus On Ice, that was coming in retro on us, it wasn’t so surprising… even though Russian shows, like their great ballet companies had traveled by truck in the U.S. for years.

Russian touring companies felt Russia had invented show biz and took forever to adopt improvements in the business. For instance, instead of castors on their road boxes, they had four to six handles to use to hand carry the boxes..

Ve strong in Russia. Ve don’t need those silly little vheels to do our vork.’

But we noticed that these strong Russians were mostly finger-pointers, and they had our stage hands do the heavy lifting.

The first time a Russian show came in with castors on their boxes, they were so proud of ‘their new invention’. Like they say, you can lead a Russian to progress, but you can’t make him think.

I was working shows at the Guthrie; and while I could not work the circus shows, I could work the Load-In and Out. On the In, I never got close to even seeing the train. I was on the prop crew working on the concrete floor of the ice arena of the Minneapolis Auditorium. The entire floor could be an ice rink for ice shows and hockey game, but this time there was only a 20’ by 20’ sheet of ice in the center. That was where the four Russian bears played hockey, the stars of this circus..

Russian bears had been a staple of Russian show biz since even before the balalaika, that musical instrument the Russians invented after seeing some gypsies playing one. Naturally, Russian bears are not quite like our common brown bears. The biggest difference is the head. Russian bears have a slightly different shaped head and a much longer nose. And of course, a Russian would tell you that their bears are much smarter than the average bear.

Another work crew was hollering for assistance. They had a large black circus wagon on the landing just before the ramp down to the arena floor and there were screams of helping to get it to the floor at a reasonable speed. I heard a something about a light dimmer. So I assumed it was an old fashion dimmer pack. Leave it to the Russians to bring back outdated equipment.

As I got close I could see there was an outer metal shell on the four sides and top. I got to the one corner and could see there was solid bars inside. At first I thought I would stick my arm in the crack for a more solid place to push back on. The metal sheets looked to be only attached on the top. But then I decided against it, afraid of getting pinched or worse being trapped if the wagon got away.

On the other corner, Nicky had the same thought about getting something solid. He stuck his arm in the crack.

‘Ah, I wouldn’t do…’screamed one of the hands.

Nicky screamed louder and pulled his arm out. His sleeve was ripped and his arm was bleeding from long scratches.

‘There’s a bear in there,’ a hand shouted… too late.

‘Now you tell us!’ I hollered. ‘Somebody said it was a f#####n light dimmer.’

‘No!’ a hand argued, ‘I said this f####n devil’s not light!’

Chaos! Men screaming at each in English, Russian; and when Henri, the French-Canadian stagehand that was hired on in Montreal, came on the scene, his French overpowered everybody. He was in the smaller Russian trainer’s face, and I could hear the word ‘forklift’ and a lot of French words the oldtimers back home used when they got mad.

Henri was hired for two reasons. He was a liaison between the Russians and the stagehands they would encounter on the tour. And also, he spoke both French and English and the Russian interpreters felt more at home with French than with English.

The local hands were swearing at Russians, the bear, and each other. One banged on a metal sheet covering the cage and the roar of a bear erupted and the cage began to shake. The local hands jumped back. My crew went back down to the arena floor…quickly.

I had helped Nicky to a seat and was standing there while the auditorium nurse was applying first aid. She wrapped the arm and told Nicky that a gofer would take him to the hospital for a tetanus shot.

‘Tell him we will go to my house after,’ Nicky said in a low voice, I’m going to pick up my 30-30. It’s open season on f#####g bears.’ The nurse laughed, but she didn’t know Nicky like we did. We knew Nicky was serious. Westie, the house carpenter, quickly told Nicky to take the rest of the day off…with pay, and get ready for his work in the hotel that night.

Henri got a forklift and backed it in front of each cage to slow them down the ramp. The two Russian trainers spoke to us on the floor and made motions to help take the metal sheets off the cages. They might have not understood what we said back to them, but they understood the one-finger salutes we gave them; and worked on the cages by themselves.

When we helped Henri with his work box I noticed his name, Henri Perron. painted on it. Without thinking, I blurted out, ‘My maternal grandfather’s name is Henry Perron.’

Oh, did Henri get excited. And then he really got excited when I told him about growing up in a small village across the river where several generations ago a large group of French-Canadians, following the fur trade, settled. I mentioned some of the last names, pronouncing them in the way they are pronounced in French and Henri recognized them as names common in Ottawa, Quebec, and all through French Canada..

‘We are cousins, Donny. Not close… but many years back. I am a Perron. You are a Perron from your mother. We are far cousins.’

Very far. The original Perron in Canada was a fisherman from Rochell, France, who came to Ottawa in the 18th Century and was a large propagator, both in marriage and out. The Perrons take up a large amount of the White Pages in Ontario. The name dominates the providence like the name Jones dominates the United States.

I broke a cardinal rule. In the Army you never tell the mess sergeant your name or you will be the brunt of the jobs on KP simply because he calls names he knows. The same is true for a road stagehand. Never tell a roadie your name. Now Henri not only knew my name, he considered himself family.

After lunch he approached me. ‘Cousin Donny, I am told you are a very good rigger. I need you for a special job. I need you to rig the trapeze. The artist’s rig does not go that high so you rig these two cables I made up when I found out that the beam here was one hundred feet up.’

I told him I never heard of a trapeze artist who would let someone else rig his trapeze. Oh, Henri explained that the artist would rig his swing on the cables I rigged. I said that he would still depend on my rigging as well as his own. I thought he should rig the long cables also just to be safe.

‘Well,’ Henri said in a low voice, ‘I think he is scared to go up that high.’

We set up the house contraption to get me up that high. The darn thing went up in ten feet sections, then would pause and shake a bit before spitting up the next ten feet. I hated it!

They sent Jimmy, the Guthrie prop builder, along to help me. He quickly huddled in a corner of the cage and when we reached the correct height, he begged me to just let him stay in the corner. He was breathing fast and deep. I was afraid he would hyperventilate on me I told him to just relax. I didn’t have a paper bag he could breath into. And we both agree mouth to mouth was out of the question.

Rigging the cables was a snap compared to the ride up.

Rig a trapeze! A lot of responsibility! After that, I had a lot more respect for the parachute packers that rigged the chutes we jumped with. One big difference is the packers always have to jump a chute they packed and I wasn’t about to swing from the trapeze I rigged.

Once on the Camping Exposition In, Joey B. and I were on the high beams working while a young trapeze artist was rigging his swing. Joey commented that swinging on a trapeze was a hell of a way to make a buck. The kid said it beat the hell of the last job he had before working a trapeze.

I got shot out of the cannon,’ he said, very matter-of-fact.

Every day of that Russian Circus week I kept checked the news, praying I would not hear that the trapeze failed and the artist fell. When I didn’t hear anything, it made my day, believe me.

A couple of the shop hands at the Guthrie worked the nightly circus shows, and wished they didn’t.

There were very few cues to work, but everyone worked the one big one during the bears’ hockey game. They were spaced out on the outside of the ice rink. Each hand was given a lead pipe. If a bear decided it wanted to leave the rink, the man closest was to hit the bear on the nose with the pipe.

Luckily during the local run the bears behaved.

A few years later when Henri came through with the Canadian Ballet he told how on the next stop, Chicago, the ice never got made the first day. The bears got sent out on the bare concrete to play hockey. One of the bears panicked and decided to leave the ‘rink’. The stagehand closest to the bear, stood up, threw the pipe hitting the bear in the nose, then turned and ran out of the building. He never stopped and never came back for any other performances or the Out.

‘I think he maybe still running,’ Henri said. ‘Didn’t even look around and see his pipe made the bear behave.’

A lead pipe to a Russian bear trainer is the equivalent of a whip and chair to a lion tamer.

BAP! Hit the bear on the nose with the pipe to get it’s attention.

BAP! Hit the bear on the nose to make it sit down.

BAP! Hit the bear on the nose before putting the skate on the bear’s foot.

Twenty years later I worked a different kind of Russian circus that featured trained bears. No hockey game just tricks like a bear on a unicycle and several bears wearing tutus and ‘ballet’ dancing. Same as before, the lead pipe, bap, bap, bap. All a person could do from taking the pipe and hitting the trainer on the nose.

When we were setting up that first day, one of our hands, Matt, showed you didn’t need a pipe to make a bear behave. Matt wasn’t paying any attention, a trait he excelled in, and he backed too close to a bear in the cage. Matt stopped and the bear reached through the bars and placed it’s paw on Matt’s shoulder. Matt turned his head, and having grown up on the Iron Range, had a lot of experience with bears, he slapped the bear’s paw away. Then Matt commenced to shout at the animal in Croatian. Matt didn’t move from the cage. It was the bear who jumped back and retreated to a far corner, away from this crazy man.

The bears did have a high degree of intelligence. Richie, the local’s hippie, liked the looks of the large red apples the bears got for a treat. He gave the friendliest bear a cigarette to eat. The bear loved it. Then Richie offered the bear another…only in exchange for the bear’s apple. It was a deal. When the bear got another apple it held on to it until it saw Richie and then would offer the apple to Richie in exchange for a cigarette.

The one Russian trainer saw what was happening and he offered to exchange an apple for two American cigarettes. Richie ate a lot of apples that week and made two new friends.

And now if you will ‘bear’ with me until the next post

I will tell what happened on

The Last Train Out

MEMORIES OF PRINCE

PRINCE IS DEAD AT AGE 57!

( Last April 26 was the 5th anniversary of his death. Had he lived he would be 62 today. Mind boggling! Here’s some bits and pieces from the 2 blog posts, Strangers on The Stage and Purple Pain, both in Stage Hand category, that I wrote about working Prince Roger Nelson, aka the Symbol, the Slave, Skippy, and other names this eccentric genius dubbed himself; but to his fans and admirers he was and is PRINCE.

What shock! I first worked him 45+ years ago. Watched him grow from a self-assured teenager to a world famous Hall of Fame musician, singer, songwriter, actor, musical innovator and creator of a new genre of music.  Always his own man, always stuck to his roots. Born and raised on the north side of Minneapolis, spent his adult life in his purple fenced home and recording studio, Paisley Park, a few miles from his first home and his youthful friends. (And made a lot of money for the stage hands in his area.)

His tours were some of the biggest on the road, and yet he gave concerts, some announced, some impromptu, for his fans at small familiar venues like First Avenue and Paisley Park. His roots. His fans.

He left behind a great legacy of music and memories for people all over the world. And even today his genius is springing  out with ‘new’ works that was never made public before.

young prince

The first time I worked Prince was in the early 70’s. There was a benefit at the Orpheum and Prince Nelson was one of the many performers. There already had been a lot of buzz about this young talent. He was somewhere in the middle of the card. The acts that followed him, didn’t stand a chance. Everybody present, especially Prince, knew that this youngster could be Big Time.

(I stand corrected. I worked him when he earlier when he was studying classic ballet, on a grant, with MN Dance and he was a one of a multitude of little dancers in Loyce Holton’s NUTCRACKER.)

And it didn’t take him long to prove everybody right. Unlike the other Minnesota musical phenom, Robert Zimmerman, a.k.a. Bob Dylan, who paid his dues working small coffee shops in Minneapolis and New York for years before he was recognized, Prince Nelson, a.k.a. Prince, hit the ground running. He released his debut album when he was only 20. Less than a year later, his second album went platinum. And unlike so many others born in ‘fly-over country’, Prince kept his base in his homeland, rather than moving to the glamour cities of the coasts. As a result he generated a lot of opportunities and wages for the locals.

I worked Prince in concerts, benefits, rehearsals, but the longest stint came with the PURPLE RAIN tour production tech in the fall of 84. Prince was at the top. His single, PURPLE RAIN, was arguably his best single. His album, PURPLE RAIN, was arguably his best album. And his movie, PURPLE RAIN, was his first movie and would turn out to be his  best movie, not argument on that one. And he wanted the PURPLE RAIN tour to be his best.

the kid

The set would be one of the biggest ever to tour the arenas. It was the first one, that I know about, where the set was constructed downstage in the arena, while the lights and sound were being hung. Then the set was rolled by a very large crew to it’s proper position. It was two-tiered with plenty of ramps to dance on and had three scissor lifts to add to the excitement.

(I was local head carpenter from the first; and because the tour carpenter was busy working out the logistics of the coming tour, I was the local head carp even when we went into the St. Paul jurisdiction. I, and several of my favorite hands, sons and nephews, put up the complicated set in every move and worked all the rehearsals also. By the time the 4 weeks were up we knew more than the road carpenter concerning the set.)

To further enhance his tour, his second front act was Sheila E, another of his many protégés and one of his main squeezes at the time. Sheila E was already a much sought after percussionist with stints with names like Lionel Richie, Marvin Gaye, Diana Ross.

She also had the very sexist title of the best female drummer in the land. When Prince ‘discovered’ her, he got her a recording contract and wrote two songs for her to sing, THE GLAMOROUS LIFE, the title song of her first album, and THE BELLE OF ST. MARK, both of which cracked the charts.

His first front act was a girl trio, Apollonia 6, featuring Apollonia, his co-star in the PURPLE RAIN movie. It started out as a replacement for Vanity 6, when Vanity went out on her own. The trio’s act on the tour was short to begin with, and got shorter when Prince decided that Apollonia was pretty, but really couldn’t sing any better than she could act.

For me, the tour production was four weeks of long, long days. In the four weeks I might have had a full eight hours of sleep two or three times. Several times worked around the clock, once for 48 hours before I had a chance to sleep for a few hours on packing blankets. We started the production at the Met Sports Arena, then moved to the Minneapolis Auditorium, over to the St. Paul Civic Center, and finished out back at the Met. Big money, but a lot of hard work and a lot of pain. Although offered a job on the tour itself, I said no way and was elated when we shut the door on the last truck on the way to Detroit to begin the tour itself. Purple Rain. No! Purple pain – for a lot of us.

Prince himself got me good one day. I was walking in the circular hallway around the arena at the Met. All of a sudden I heard, ‘Stop! Watch out!’ Luckily, before I had a chance to turn and maybe get hurt worse, something hit me in the back of the legs. I was prevented from falling forward by a set of arms and legs. I fell backwards onto a road box.

‘I’m sorry! I’m sorry! Are you okay? I’m sorry!’ I looked up into the face of the apologizing Prince. I told him I was okay.

‘Good’, said a voice coming from beneath me. ‘But darn, you’re heavy.’ I looked around and saw the face of Sheila E. I had ended up sitting in her lap. Now it was my turn to apologize. I quickly got off her.

It seems that His Purpleness wanted to have some fun and got Sheila E to sit on the front of the road box. Then, head down, he pushed the box as fast as his short legs could pump. They rounded a curve – and there I was. Not too much damage to me, except a purple, naturally, bruise on the back of my legs. They turned the box around and laughingly continued their fun in the opposite direction. While I limped back down the hall.

(Prince was also a very good athlete in high school. I know he loved to play basketball. The net and stand was one of the first things that we put up at his rehearsals, He was always the shortest in games with anyone who wanted to play, but he was the best dribbler and a good shot.)

Prince laid down the law as regards the tour, he would not tolerate any drug use whatsoever. Musicians, roadies, security force, nobody. He refused to hire as one of his many body guards, ex wrestler, a future governor of MN, Jesse The Body Ventura because Jesse was reported to have a drug background while wrestling.

(Ironic that Prince would die of an overdose of pain pills, considering his hatred for drugs; but I know he must have had great pain in his older years. He never spared his body, leaping around the stage and even off of it during his performances. And certainly the incident that happened one night at a Purple Rain rehearsal, the one that I tell about in the cartoon below contributed a great deal to his future pain.)

Like I pointed out, the rehearsal for the tour took a lot out of people. Made them do things they wouldn’t do if they weren’t tired. Even Prince suffered because of rehearsal fatigue. Like the last week, a few days left to wrap up the rehearsal and take the show on the road…. But rather than me writing about it, the talented Joel Orf drew a cartoon of the incident that my alter ego, The Old Hand, related to him. That character in the hat is me wearing my ‘trademark hat’. (Click on it to enlarge.)

Prince tour

I was on my knees in a downstage wing paging a mic for Patti LaBelle. Her concerts were always very fine, except her set belonged in an arena, not a theater. Very crowded on stage. And since wireless mics were still unreliable, a stagehand was needed to page the cable to keep it from tangling in a set piece. You have to concentrate. For that reason I didn’t realize that there were people in the wing with me until they had me surrounded.

I saw a short pair of legs clad in tight purple pants. I didn’t have to even look up to know it was Prince.

The second pair of legs were much longer and much more interesting.. The right leg was clad in a conventional tight, but the left leg was naked up to the short shorts. I knew it was Sheila E. That quirky bit of wardrobe was designed especially by Prince for her.

The third pair were longer still. Both legs naked. The shorts, shorter still. The blouse so tight you could see, even in the darkness of the wing, there was no bra underneath. It was Kim Basinger.

Prince might have been short in stature, but he more than make up for it in self-confidence. Not many men would dare attend a concert with both an ex-girlfriend and a current girlfriend. Or maybe it was a current girlfriend and an about-to-be ex-girlfriend, maybe two current girlfriends.

But that was Prince, The Artist Formally Known as Prince, The Love Symbol. And for all I knew, Madonna, Carmen Electra, Vanity, etc., etc., etc., might all have been at Paisley Park waiting for the three of them to return so they could all ‘party like it it’s 1999‘.

A few of my memories of the little man, the giant musician.

His Purple Highness

  

               

JOAN OF ARTS @ THE G

mondale family

On 4/19/2021 we lost a much admired man, Walter Mondale. He spent many of his 93 years working in public service. He epitomized what a politician should be, honest, hard working, dedicated not only to his views, but mindful of the views of others. He held many public offices including U.S. Senator and Vice President.

The son of a preacher man, he was religious in the true sense. Rather than preaching his religion to others, he practiced his religion in deeds. He cared. He was a role model for many and admired even by those who did not share his political agenda. He was a devoted family man

He stuck by his views both in talk and deeds. For instance, he was a strong advocate for the ERA rights Amendment, equal rights fort women. He was the first U.S. presidential candidate to select a woman, Geraldine Ferraro, as his running mate.

I never had the pleasure of working Walter Monday, but I did have a delightful time with his wife, Joan, and two of his children, Eleanor and William. This is the blog post I wrote shortly after Joan Mondale died on 2/3/2014.

Because Walter Mondale had been out of the national limelight for a while, the death of his wife, Joan, received only a slight notice in the press outside of Minnesota. Mostly tied in with the fact she was the wife of Walter, ‘Fritz’, Mondale.   She deserved more than that just on the basis of her own life.

She was an artist, author, and patron and defender the Arts. She was dubbed Joan of Art, by the national press. Many of the her projects, such as establishing a gallery of American Artists, in the Vice Presidential Mansion are still monuments to her work in the Arts.

My encounter with Joan Mondale took place when her husband was campaigning for the Vice Presidency under Jimmy Carter, and I was working at the Guthrie Theater.

 She was attending a gala at the Walker Art Center, which was attached to the Guthrie. Her two youngest children, Eleanor and William, teenagers at the time, wanted to see the play at the Guthrie instead going to the hoopla.

Jon, the Guthrie Production Stage Manager, brought them up to the booth and told us the two kids would be watching the play from the booth. He showed some chairs to the left of the stage manager. Eleanor, noticing the chair to the right of my lighting board, announced she was going to sit there. Jon managed to crack a smile and as he went to leave, he commented that if they had any questions, ‘Just ask Don. He’s our resident babysitter.’ He was referring to the fact that I often brought children to watch the shows from the chair Eleanor had taken, something he really didn’t approve of.

‘What’s he? The resident clown?,’ Eleanor asked me, loud enough for Jon to hear as he walked to the door.

At intermission, William had many questions. When I explained how the lighting board worked and he said he thought I had a ‘cool’ job. Eleanor said she was going to be an actress; and after she made it big in the movies, she would come back and act at the Guthrie. William rolled his eyes. I certainly couldn’t disagree with her. She seemed to be a young lady who would work hard for what she wanted.

When the play finished I had some work to do in the attic, to prepare for a different play the next evening. William asked if he could go along and I said come on

He and Eleanor followed me up the ladder to the catwalks where I changed some gel colors and replugged some lighting instruments. I brought them down into some lighting coves and showed how the lights were pointed to a specific area on the stage. We could see Joey B. and the shifting crew working below, changing one set for the other. William thought that was ‘cool’ also.

Jon walked on stage with Mrs. Mondale. He hollered at me, telling me Mrs. Mondale was here for the children and wanted to know where they were. At the mention of ‘the children’, Eleanor muttered, ‘The clown in residence!’ I hollered down that they were with me in the attic and we’d be down in a few minutes.

At the mention of the two being up top with me, Jon began to bellow. How could I be so crazy as to place the children of the next Vice President of the United States in danger? The two kids both shouted to tell their mother that it wasn’t dangerous. Jon kept it up. I bellowed back that if it was so dangerous, maybe I should be drawing hazardous duty pay along with my wages. I could hear Joey B. and the shifting crew laugh.

When the three of us made it down to the stage, Jon kept up his harangue. How could I make Mrs. Mondale wait? She’s got important things to do. She was too important to have to wait on me. I should apologize to her for making her wait and for placing her children in danger. And if he had known that I was going to screw up so bad, he would have babysat the children himself. Both Eleanor and William came to my defense, and Mrs. Mondale said she didn’t mind waiting.

   Jon didn’t seem to hear them. He was having too much fun showing off. He knew I wouldn’t give him an argument in front of the Mondales. Joey B. and the shifters weren’t too sure though, and they stopped working and waited for me to order Jon off the stage. He was crossing too many lines, including the fact he was acting like he was my boss, which he wasn’t.

He was also upsetting Eleanor; and she began to walk toward him, when her mother stopped her. Then, Mrs. Mondale shook my hand and thanked me for giving her children an experience in theater that they would never forget. And she added, ‘If I didn’t have high-heels on, I would ask you to take me up and show me the catwalks.’

Then she turned to Jon, the silent one, and she commented, ‘Do you have any teenagers, Jon?’

‘Ah, no. I don’t have any children.’

I thought as much,’ she said, and went off stage, followed by the children, into the center aisle that led to the lobby. She turned and waved goodbye to Joey B. and the shifting crew. So did Eleanor and William, who both hollered out thanks to me. Jon followed.

‘Hey, Jon,’ I shouted, ‘When you can, come on back. You and me have to talk.’ Joey B. and the  shifters laughed; but Jon didn’t acknowledge my request. In fact, he stayed out of my way for several days.

Joan Mondale was a ‘dutiful’ political wife. She did everything right as her husband, Walter, rose from Minnesota Attorney General, to U.S. Senator, U.S Vice President, Democratic nominee for President, Ambassador to Japan.

Well, she did have one glitch. In an interview, she requested that she not be asked, like most politicians’ wives, what her favorite recipe was. To atone for this supposed slam at American homemakers, she quickly released a book containing ‘all her favorite recipes’, her PR people thought would go well with the Mrs. Cleavers of America.

And she suffered when Walter was trounced by Ronald Reagan in election of 1984. And years later when he was nosed out by Norm Coleman in the race for the U.S Senate vacated by the death of Paul Wellstone, just eleven days prior to the election.

Joan Mondale, the mother, saw her three children become successful. Both Ted and William went into the political and private sectors. Eleanor, as she promised, tried Hollywood, and then into talk radio in Chicago and later Minneapolis. She was a tabloid celeb, dubbed the ‘wild child’. Then at the age of 40, Eleanor was diagnosed with brain cancer. She fought it for 11 years and died at the age of 51. Every time I think of Eleanor, I remember her comment, ‘Who is he? The resident clown?’

And now reading about the death of Joan Mondale, I remember a kind and intelligent woman, a politician in her own right, and a good mother. And often wished she had changed her shoes and came back to the Guthrie so I could have given her a tour of the Guthrie catwalks.

TRUCKING – LOL

Tex was a Clark driver for the first several years of trucking the Met Opera Spring Tour. Large and loud. He always entered the stagehand’s room with ‘Relax yo’all, old Tex is in the theater!’ He dressed the part…Stetson, boots, giant belt buckle. Some of the hands bought his shtick.

I thought it overdone. His wardrobe was too much and his accent too thick. He reminded me of a owner/’actor’ on those TV ads for used car lots.

This particular time he got in the room before the opera started. We were going to throw out the scenery of the first act at first intermission and Tex would take it to storage in New York. He grabbed a cup of coffee and sat down, carrying on with his usual palaver. But when one of the truck loaders came in and motioned to Steve, the Met’s Head Carpenter, to come outside, Tex stopped talking and started fidgeting.

Steve came back in the room and you could see he was mad. ‘What is that goddamn stink in your trailer?’ he asked, standing over Tex. ‘It smells like s**t!’

Tex made an effort to stand but Steve pushed him back. ‘You were sandbagging with the truck, weren’t you?’

‘Well, Steve.’I had three free days and an empty truck…’

‘So what did you do, rent it out for a Portable Potty?

‘Ah, Steve,’ Tex argued, ‘I’d never do such a thing. I just helped out an old boy who needed help getting a few pigs to the stockyards.’

‘Pigs! Pigs!,’ Steve screamed. They heard him backstage but the orchestra was playing the Overture and nobody on stage or in the house heard the yelling.

‘Come on, Steve, old son,’ Tex said in a low voice. ‘There wasn’t but a couple dozen or so and they weren’t no big old fat-backs. They were prime bacon. Hardly more than piglets.’

Steve slapped the Stetson off the head of Tex. ‘Just little piggies! You should have put diapers on them then. If I could I’d call for a different rig, but it’s too late now. When I get back to the Met Warehouse I’m going to smell that set and if it smells the least bit like pig s**t, Clark is going to get a bill for a new set.’

‘Ah, old son,’ Tex argued, ‘It’ll be aired out by the time the load is in. I pressured washed the inside of the trailer twice. What you smell…

‘What I smell, old son…of a,’ Steve stopped and told Tex to go in the truck.

We loaded it and only two of the loaders had to come out for air. The other two lived in So. St. Paul where most of the city carried the smell from the stockyards where Tex had delivered those little piggies.

The next spring tour nobody dared ask Steve if the set still stunk when he checked it out in the warehouse. And we never saw Tex driving for Clark again. Although some years later one of hands said he was positive that was Tex driving the roadie bus for ZZ Top.

*

Back in the day, before cell phones, truckers had to rely on land lines and CB radio within their range. We were at coffee in the stagehands’ room at the Orpheum when a trucker came in and asked to use the phone. ‘Long distance to my office. I’ll reverse the charges,’ he explained.

Got the call to go to Milwaukee and get this truck to Minneapolis Orpheum. The regular driver took sick and by the time I got there, the other trucks were loaded and long gone. Headed out on my own. Now I’m told by crew upstairs, this truck doesn’t belong here. Probably some other theater in town.’

I told him that I was the union BA and I knew this was the only show in town that day…but maybe in St. Paul.

We got his side of the conversation as he explained to the office…and then he shouted, ‘Indianapolis!!! I thought they said, Minneapolis!!!’

He slammed the phone down, drank the coffee we offered him, and stomped off to his truck.

*

Overheard two truckers talking while we were loading their trucks.

‘How long is it going to take to get to Winnipeg?’

“Well the book says 474 miles. Good highways… so depending on how long we get held up in customs, should be there in 7 or 8 hours. We’ll make the call on time and won’t even have to cheat with the second log book.”

‘There you go now; but you forget once you hit Canada, they don’t have miles anymore. They got kilometers. And kilometers are bigger than miles. So it’s going to take us longer.’ He gave the other driver a smug smile.

The second driver just shook his head….

*

Skippy was innocent in creating this fiasco but Skippy was the one who got the brunt of the hurt.

Skippy was Head Carpenter of one of three Sesame Street Live companies touring .He also drove one of the trucks. Earlier he had wrapped up the tour and had put the set to sleep in the warehouse. After several months without a day off, he had ten days of doing nothing before he would have to start working the production of his next tour.

Before going home, he detoured and picked up a couple movies at Block Busters. (Two of my favorite Judy Garland and Mickey Rooneys) He had one loaded to go and the popcorn was just starting to pop, when the phone rang. Rather than burn the popcorn, he gave a middle finger salute to the annoyance and let the message go to Voice Mail.

‘Skippy! Skippy!’ It was Vince Egan, the owner of Sesame Street Live shows. ‘

When Vince speaks, people listen. (I grabbed the phone and listened to Vince’s orders. Oh, I could smell the popcorn burning.)

‘The actor that plays Oscar the Grouch on the #3 show tour dislocated his shoulder. He also drives the second truck. It’s his left should so he could still sit in the trash can and work Oscar, (Darn! I always wanted to play Oscar. I know I would be a good one.); but you have to fly out and get the truck to the next stop, Atlanta. The office has your plane ticket waiting for you. Get to the airport fast .Hey keep a record of what you spend and remember, it’s my dime you’re riding. ’

Skippy called for a cab, threw the burnt popcorn out the windows for the birds, grabbed his to-go bag, and went outside to wait for the cab.

(I had no idea where I was flying to. I hoped it wasn’t too far from Atlanta. And when I looked at the ticket and saw I was on my way to Charleston, West Virginia, I hoped the town was still open when I got there.)

When the red eye landed at 2 A.M., there was one cab at the airport. Skippy woke up the cabbie and told him to go to the arena or theater where Sesame Street Live was playing.

(He argued, said there was no TV show in town. I tried to explain to him it was a live show and he said he knew all about it. His kids watched it when they were little; but there still ain’t no TV show in town.)

Skippy had the cabbie drive all around to where a show like Sesame Street could have played…if it had been in town.

(Nothing. I hated to admit it to cabbie, but he was right. I asked if there was a McDonalds open but he said they closed hours ago. I asked about a motel, but he said the only ones he knew would be open this time of night, rented by the hour. We settled on going back to the airport and hoped there was some vending machines still open. I gave the driver a big tip…after all it was Vince’s dime.)

Vince did not like to be woken that time of night. When he finished his tirade and calmed down enough to listen, he hit the roof again when Skippy told him he could not find the truck anyplace in Charleston, West Virginia.

‘West Virginia! West Virginia! What the hell are you doing there? You should be in Charleston, South Carolina.! And he continued to rant.

(Oh, I hated that. Like it was my fault. I finallty got a word in edgewise and reminded him I only flew to the wrong Charleston because that’s where the ticket was for. And he lowered his voice when I explained that I was watching the expenses on his dime by not going to a motel but sleeping at the airport instead. Didn’t bother to mention, I heard the motel didn’t change sheets very often.)

The cabbie in the next Charleston knew exactly where the truck would be. The head carpenter had made the merchandise peddler drive the second set truck to make sure the show got up in time, and the truck Skippy picked up was the merch truck which didn’t have to be in Atlanta until the next day.

(First thing before I got in the truck, I got the cabbie to take me to the best steakhouse in the city. After all I wqs riding on Vince’s dime.),

TRUCKING IN THE BIZ

Trucks are as much a staple of today’s show business as computers and exorbitant ticket prices.

The first use of a truck as the sole transportation of a Broadway show was in 1949 when the hit show, Mr. Roberts., went on a national tour. But the transformation of trucks as the prime mover in show business didn’t happen overnight.

The standard method for the moving of scenery and equipment centered around railroads. The traveling shows used horse and wagons and then graduated to trucks to get everything from the theater to the boxcars and from the boxcars to the next theater. Railroads had a made big investments in spurs, side tracks where boxcars could be taken off the main rails and left to sit while they were loaded and unloaded, building them convenient to theater districts in the large cities.

For the most part the system worked, and producers were reluctant to change even though trucks as sole transportation eliminated the cost of double handling and having to book trucks in two cities. It served the major cities of the east and even extended as far west as Chicago. The consensus was they could not sell many tickets in the ‘lesser’ cities, like ‘Peoria’, cities that had no railroad spurs for show business.

The interstate highway system we take for granted today did not begin in earnest in 1956. People might have ‘got their kicks on Route 66’, the main road to the west coast, but their kicks involved a lot of driving on narrow unpaved sections of road and found that gas stations and diners far far apart. Taxing the people for good highways was out of the question, a socialist idea.. Therefore, the winning reason for our interstate highway system was we needed good roads to transport missiles needed to fight the Cold War. And the highway system that changed the face of America was begun… even though the overpasses were too low to allow missiles in transport to pass under.

Also the modern diesel engine that is the standard in the trucking industry wasn’t introduced until 1964. It rapidly replaced the fleets of gasoline straight-trucks with 18 wheelers tractor-trailers which hauled much more freight and cut back on the cost of fuel and drivers.

Clark Transfer, the company that took Mr. Roberts on that first tour, was well established around the Philadelphia area as it had trucked theatrical posters and such for years. TV Guide started in the Philadelphia area and Clark was it’s trucking company to carry the increasingly popular magazine to major cities in the northeast.

The company, after the success of the Mr. Roberts’ tour continued to press the idea of live shows being trucked across the country. In 1954 they had eleven shows on the road. Oklahoma and Guys and Dolls were the big musicals of the day and Clark brought them to cities that would never get them because of the lack of a railroad spur. These tours proved that even the ‘lesser’ cities, like Peoria, were well worth stopping at. Clark also hauled some legit shows, several large ballet companies, and the Philadelphia Orchestra.

Up to the early 60’s, these tours were basically one truck and one bus. Then there was a big mistake made in the Met Opera Spring Tour. The railroad took the opera sets for Norma to Memphis instead for Atlanta. Clark had trucks with the tour that were used to get the sets to and from the theater to the trains, and Clark came to the rescue. Charlie Hackett, Clark’s main teamster, took a truck to Memphis and brought Norma to the theater in Atlanta and the show opened just a half hour late, a feat that impressed Sir Rudolph Bing, the artistic head of the Met Opera, and Joe Volpe, the head carpenter of the Met, who would go on to replace Rudolph Bing as the Met’s artistic head.

Volpe took two major steps prior to the next tour. He told the railroad ‘forget it’ and hired Clark Transfer to do all the moving from city to city for the Spring Tour. Charlie Hackett was in charge of the forty to seventy truckloads needed to put on the seven different operas in a six day period. That masterful juggling of trucks foreshadowed the multi- trucks extravaganzas of today’s overproduced and overpriced shows like Phantom, Les Miz, and the many modern ‘operas’ of Andrew Lloyd Weber and others that are so popular today.

Northrop Auditorium of the U of Minnesota was the keystone of the Met’s spring tour since the inception in 1945. It’s almost 5,000 seat were sold out for each of the operas into the mid 1980’s. It is also where I first began my show business career. I came the second year of the change to trucks so I never worked the rail travel of the Met or any other traveling shows…except one, which I will write about in coming posts.

And just as a mistake with the Met Opera that changed the way a segment of show business traveled, a mistake in the Beatles first tour of the U.S. opened the door to the overproduced and overpriced rock/pop/country concerts and festivals with their multitude of semis trucking them to major cities, ballparks, farm pastures and the like… semis that carry staging, lights, sound and more sound, even musical instruments, and of course the swag, overpriced tee shirts etc..

In 1964 the Beatles came to the US with performances at Carnegie Hall, Washington D.C. ballpark and on the Ed Sullivan Show. Their fans demanded more. In 1965 the Fab Four performed 32 sold-out shows in 26 venues in just 33 days all across the U.S.. While their screaming fans, from teeny- boppers to housewives, didn’t care if the shows were for the most part technical disasters, the industry noticed both the vast potential of this expansion of the music industry and the fact that the technical atrocities of the tour had to be addressed if it would succeed without the need of the tsunami of Beatlemania.

The tour had been organized by a New York corporation; but the local promoters in each venue were responsible for the stages, lights, and sound, which were handled by local companies that had no experience in large venues. Some outdoor venues, like Minneapolis, put stages put in the center of the field with the audience surrounding the performers who moved their sets four times each performance to face another segment of the audience. Lighting was weak.. often relying on a couple of carbon-arc spots lights too far away to do a decent job.

And the sound!!! Forget it! The squeals of the audience mixed with the feedback of the speakers drowned out the weak sound systems. The audience knew all the songs by heart and sang along. Nobody demanded their money back… but not all concerts would feature an act like the Beatles.

The logical solution was to supply the right staging, lighting, sound and experienced technicians and the idea of trucks to move everything from venue to venue. Now even small town America, like Peoria, could pay outlandish prices to see the same live music as large city audiences enjoyed.

Trucks brought much needed work to stagehand locals that had lost so much when vaudeville died.

Clark Transfer took a stab at getting into the rock and roll trucking; but the pop music industry had always been a cut-throat business, singers, musicians, composers were cheated out of their rightful dues, and the eruption of this music in the 50’ and 60’s amplified the no-holds-barred way of business. Clark backed off and stuck with the stable business methods of the ‘fine arts’, leaving rock and roll trucking to small, often one- owner-one-truck, outfits. These were soon gobbled up by large corporations that also got into other aspects of the business, like promoting, oversupplying equipment, providing roadies at cheap wages, tying up artists and their works, selling expensive tickets and adding surcharges, etc.. But the music public must not mind it because…

And these corporations, for the most part, no longer own their own fleet of trucks. Now most of the show business trucking is done by owner-operators with the companies acting as an agent to give work to the least expensive truckers. This gives the blue collar the romantic aura of ‘independence’, he desires, and the white collar still has control and greater profits, he desires. But the music truckers must not mind because…

Another growth aspect is husband and wife owner-operators. One drives while the other sleeps. The shows gets to the next venue in time without the practice of keeping two log books, one to show the boss, one to show the highway cops. And the only losers are the prostitutes working the truck stops.

And now that I have bitten the hand that fed me and my family for so long, I would add that show biz trucking has given me a lot to laugh about. Stay tuned for some of the laughs.

And Stay Safe.

NIMOY’S 48TH BIRTHDAY

The VINCENT tour was in Aurora, Illinois, an outer most suburb of Chicago. We had been looking forward to a full theatrical week, six evening, two matinee performances, at the recently remodeled Paramount Theater, an old vaudeville/movie theater converted to a live entertainment venue. That week was going to be the one that would help monetary- wise for the many benefits and small theaters we had on the tour. To insure good houses for the week, a Public Relations man was hired to make Chicago and the environs aware of the show.

The young man hired was the nephew of somebody the Nimoys knew. After he was hired, he confessed he was a cub in the PR business in fact this would be his first PR gig. But Leonard kept him on. After all it was Chicago, a great city for the Arts. It wasn’t so much of selling the show, just getting the word out.

The closer we got to the that week though, the worse the news, as far as ticket sales and interviews, was.

The manager of the Paramount suggested getting a Chicago PR firm, pointing out that the Cub, as he referred to the young man, wasn’t cutting it. He said had made several suggestions as to where the Cub should be working; but the Cub stuck mostly at the Student Center at Northwestern University, more interested in chatting up the coeds than selling the show.

By the time the week arrived the eight shows hoped for was down to four evening performances.

I set up the show on Monday as planned even though the 1st performance wasn’t until Thursday.

Leonard had an interview, the only one, that day on the radio station of Columbia College of Chicago. The Cub picked Leonard and his wife, Sandy, up in a limousine driven by a young woman that looked more like a model than a limo driver. The Nimoys were placed in the back seat. Cubby made sure he sat in the front next to the driver. Sandy said that once he introduced them to the radio host, Calley Nelson, he made a quick exit to ‘keep the limo driver company’. The Nimoys got first hand knowledge of what the Cub’s main interest in show biz was…trying to pick up girls.

Before Sandy had left for the radio station she stopped at the theater to remind me that it was Leonard’s birthday and there was a private celebratory dinner that evening in a restaurant close to the hotel. And she warned, nothing fancy, just dress casual, and no gifts. In short, it was like so many meals the company had together on the tour. There would be only three outsiders, the manager of the Paramount, the Cub, and Art Park, an old friend of Leonard’s, who lived in near Aurora. She assured me we would not have to sing Happy Birthday.

When I got to the party, Leonard hurried over to me to ask how the Set-Up went. ‘Piece of cake,’ I told him. ‘Good crew. How did your interview go?’

He smiled. ‘Piece of cake. The emcee went over the ground rules with me and the small audience. A little about acting in general. A lot about VINCENT in particular. Everybody stuck with it. Not once was there any damn questions like “‘does Spock die in the movie”.

Once we sat down and ordered drinks, Leonard introduced us to his friend, Art Parks. He said Art was a foremost graphic arts designer and the man who created the Bunny logo for Playboy Magazine.

‘Playboy!’ The Cub, who had been uncharacteristically silent until then, came to life. ‘Playboy! Did you know George Langelaan? He wrote the short story The Fly …’

Mr. Parks tried to answer but the Cub just kept up with his motor mouthing.

‘Playboy published it in ‘57. It was made into the movie in ‘58. David Heddison…’

‘And our good friend,Vincent Price,’ Sandy Nimoy interjected. ‘You know, Art,it was Vincent that persuaded Leonard to put together a one-man show. He has several ready to go whenever things get slow in the movies.’

‘It was Vincent, huh?’ Art Park remarked . And once he managed to talk he kept on. ‘Now as far as The Fly and Langelaan is concerned, I never met him. He sold the story freelance. But aren’t you a little young to have read the story or seen the film? They’re a little before your time. ‘

‘Oh,’ explained the Cub, ‘I am a sci-fi affectionado. I have researched sci- fi extensively and I think the story and the film…’

At this point the manager of the Paramount said in a loud voice, ‘You know, Cubbie, if you had shown this kind of enthusiasm about the show you were paid to publicized we might have sold eight performances instead of four.’

That shut the young man down; but after he devoured his steak, he took off again on The Fly. ‘Now I know sci-fi might not be a favorite of yours, but, believe me, there are some very excellent sci-fi …’

‘Not a favorite!’ the manager spoke up in a hurry. ‘Not a favorite! What do you think Star Trek is, a Western?’

‘Enough talking about bugs,’ Sandy Nimoy said as she hit her spoon against her glass.

My first thought was she was going to make us sing Happy Birthday. I was relieved when she continued, ‘I am going to tell you how the Birthday Boy spent some hectic moments in his birthday’… Leonard made a motion for her to stop, but she gave him a wifely glare and continued. ‘I have to… because I know he won’t.’

Leonard shook his head and busied himself swizzling his Beefeater martini. His face turned a light shade of red. And the Cub’s face turned a deep shade of red. He looked around as if to find a way out of the room.

Sandy continued: We were done with the interview and heading home. Leonard and I were in the back. Cubbie was up front with the oh-so-beautiful driver. I suppose he was regaling her with how he could get her into show business.’

Leonard shrugged his shoulders and smiled. Cubbie finished off his drink.

Whatever,’she waved her hands and continued, ‘Leonard and I were talking when all of a sudden there was a lot of noise and a crowd of people standing outside. The driver had stopped and she was screeeeaming. Somehow she missed the cut-off to the highway and had tried to turn back to it, but instead got us into the ghetto…’

‘It was like the race riots were back again,’ the Cub shouted.

‘How would you know?’ Sandy snapped. ‘You buried yourself under the dash.’

Leonard raised his hand. ‘It wasn’t anything like a race riot. These people were in their own neighborhood, minding their own business, when some strangers drove in a big ass limousine. Talk about flaunting wealth in a poor neighborhood. We had no business being there.’ Now it his turn to glare at the Cub. ‘The driver got distracted. Made a mistake and was trying to correct it. As soon as she settled down, she managed to get the hell out of there. She did a good job getting out of there without anybody getting hurt. And I suppose when she brings back that limo with all the dents and cracked windows, she’ll get fired.’

‘No,’ the Cub interrupted, ‘I called her and she said her boss was mad but he didn’t fire her. Placed her on probation.’ He paused and then added, ‘She didn’t want to hear my apology. Said she would send you a letter of apology.’

‘Wait,’ Sandy Nimoy said, ‘I got to tell you what my Birthday Boy hero did. ‘There was a lot of screaming and swearing and banging on the car. Then I saw a man coming with a baseball bat…and Leonard pulled me over and pushed me on the floor! And then do you know what he did next? He laid on top of me! He sheltered me! He protected me with his body! My hero!’

Art Park clapped and we all joined in. Leonard waved off the applause and commented that Sandy was softer than the car’s hard floor. He got some laughs and a big kiss from his wife.

The Cub took this distraction to leave the room without anyone seeing him. I never seen or heard of him after that. He wasn’t at breakfast. I imagine he was long gone from Aurora by then.

I was next to leave, excusing myself, saying it was a long day for me and I was planning to go to the Chicago Art Institute the next day.

Riding the communicator train into Chicago, I thought about Sandy’s story, and nothing she said about her husband’s actions surprised me. And I certainly wasn’t surprised by his defense of the black ‘mob’. That man did not have a hint of the slightest racial or sexual prejudice. There were many stories of how, over the years, Leonard stood up for rights of the minorities. And spending that much time with Leonard those three years, I believe them..everyone of them.

(Oh! And did I ever luck out in my visit to the Art Institute. In addition to their permanent collection of Monet’s Haystacks, there was a traveling exhibition of a dozen more. They were all mounted on individual display flats in a large room so you could walk along and compare how Monet genius took a mundane series of stacks and showed how each was the same except each was different because of the change in the sun and time of the year.

I had to go back the next day to continue my walking around looking at other works of art in the Institute’s permanent collection, and still never saw a smidgion of what I would have liked to have seen.)

I never read the short story nor saw the original movie of The Fly but I thought of the Cub when I watched the 1986 remake of it with Jeff Goldblum. Now if the Cub would have done his job, we never would have had that unexpected break in Aurora/Chicago. And if he had let the limo driver do her job, I would not have this incident to tell you. Hope you enjoyed it.

That’s a wrap for now

STAY SAFE

Spoke PAUL NEWMAN

Celebrity endorsements or protests of political figures or views exploded during the Viet Nam Conflict. Nothing like what is going on the 2020 presidential race, but something totally unseen in the US before then.

Before WWII there was the Isolationist Movement with Charles Lindbergh as the figurehead; but after Pearl Harbor, the movement disappeared. Even Lindbergh volunteered to fight for the Allies. Turned down by the Army Air Corps, he was hired as a civilian advisor. Countless celebrities expressed their views by action, entering the War via draft or volunteering. Their actions better than words.

The Korean Conflict, America’s Forgotten War, received little media attention, let alone public concern. The American Legion and the VFW took a lot of soul searching and time before they accepted the fact that the participants were actual foreign war veterans and could become members. The US and the other countries involved did so under the auspices of the UN because of the Domino Theory, fear that if the Communists weren’t stopped in Korea, they would hit Japan next. The biggest Celeb attention came from the TV show M.A.S.H. filmed years later.

And then came Viet Nam. A civil war of words and protests broke out. Household names, personified by John Wayne on the right and Jane Fonda on the left, voiced their opinions on the involvement like never before. One side used the Domino Effect and patriotism, ‘My Country Right Or Wrong’, as the base of their arguments. The other pointed out that it was a Civil War fought to end French Imperialism and has nothing to do with the US. In short, we were involved in an unjust war.

Did the dueling names have any influence with their public views? Perhaps. The US involvement continued in spite of government lies and illegal acts, and the Draft was changed to add a numbering system; and finally our government yelled ‘Uncle’ and withdrew. Today the Communist country of Viet Nam is a prime trading partner of the US.

Did their views harm the careers of the endorsers? Well, in spite of history proving him wrong, the career of the outspoken John Wayne actually got a much needed boost; that and the fact that he finally learned how to act instead of just being the Duke over and over. It also gave him another military-hero movie to proclaim his patriotic spirit and remind people of his bravery in WWII…films.

Jane Fonda’s career nose-dived; not because of her protesting per se, but it’s extreme. She went into the capital, Hanoi, of the enemy our military was fighting. She cavorted in her photo-ops just a few miles from where American POWs, American heroes, were encaged. Her actions were not only in poor taste, they bordered on treason. It took many years and a lot of exercise tapes before she regained a career as the excellent actress she was prior and still is.

The Viet Nam draft was geared toward the lower middle class and minorities. Those of wealth and fame were passed over by the local Draft Boards. The most notable exception was Mohammad Ali, the Heavyweight Boxing Champion of the World.

Ali was vocal in his refusal to fight in Viet Nam on religious and civil rights grounds. He said he did not believe a man should kill another man. He also asked why should he shoot brown people who never did him any harm when nothing is being done in his own country to protect the rights of dark skinned citizens from civil abuse. He was found guilty of refusing the decision of his draft board, and the government of the United States stripped him of his World boxing title. He didn’t lose it like he won it, in the ring. It was a World title but the US, and the US alone, took the title from him. To hell with the rest of the world.

The US Supreme Court, by an 8 to 0, vote over-ruled the guilty decision. Ali, a few years later, won back his World Title the way he first earned it, in the boxing ring.

There were no celebs fighting Viet Nam at the time but many of the veterans of the fighting became famous afterwards…men like Oliver Stone and Kris Kristofferson saw action and translated their experience into movies and music.

Some, like ex-VP John Kerry, went and fought in Nam, earned a chestful of medals, came home and then protested the war.

Student deferments were one way of avoiding the draft. Some like ex-Pres Bill Clinton used the deferments in the right way. He finished near the top of his class in Columbia, did two years at Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar, and finished near the head of the class in Yale law school.

Others needed a little help. Ex-VP Dick Cheney, a hawk who pushed for our attacking Iraq and Afghanistan among other things, lost his deferment when he flunked out of Yale. Faced with a One- A physical, he quickly entered the U of Wyoming and managed to keep up enough grades to avoid the draft.

Money and pull also helped. Wayne LaPierre, of NRA fame, was in trouble until his rich daddy found a doctor who stated that Wayne had a nervous condition. This phobia would prevent him from ...wait for it.. ever firing a gun.

When it looked like ex-VP Dan Quail was about to be drafted, his father managed to get him in the Indiana National Guard HQ, even though this perfect refuge was full at the time.

Ex-Pres H.W. Bush, a true WWII hero, had no sons drafted. His one son, ex-Pres George W. Bush, a true war hawk who was responsible for our invading 2 innocent countries that had nothing to do with the 9/11 attack on the US, managed to avoid real military service through pull. He got into the air wing of the Texas National Guard and was trained as a jet fighter pilot. His lack of good aptitude and his poor attendance would have 86ed most other trainees, but he managed to receive millions of dollars worth of training; and He would have saw action if Texas ever was under attack but…

Oh, also he skipped out of the last several months of his service requirement to work in a senate election race in Alabama. Still he was given an honorable discharge.

Many avoided the draft by pretending insanity. The rocker/NRA poster boy/reality TV hunter, Ted Nugget tells the most disgusting story of how he ‘fooled’ the docs about to give him his physical. It’s on the net but if you have a weak stomach I would suggest not reading it.

And some like ex-mayor, Guiliani, avoided it under never-explained-circumstances. But then so much he does is impossible to explain.

Europe was one refuge for draft dodgers. Sylvester Stallion, who like John Wayne, is an actor who fought a lot of battles…in films only. He didn’t bother to report to his draft board when he turned 18 and went to be a ski instructor in the Alps instead. While his fellow Americans were being shot at, Stallion was enjoying himself earning his nickname, The Italian Stallion. And bragged about it. But unlike another well known draft dodger who fought the battle of avoiding VD and bragged about it, Stallion never called those who did fight ‘Losers”.

Mitt Romney, who backed every war except the one he have had to see action in, took advantage of slow draft board and went to Europe on a Mormon door-knocking mission.

Although almost 100,000 American males went to Canada to escape the draft and or deserted the service itself, there no celebs among them.

ExPres Jimmy Carter, a US Naval Academy grad, who served seven years in active service, five of which were in submarines, and who left the service only because his father died and he had to go back to the family business, ran for the presidency vowing to pardon all Viet Nam era draft dodgers. And always true to his word, Carter pardoned them all on the day after he took the oath of office. Carter was a one term president. Many vets said they voted against him because of his pardoning the draft dodgers. Wonder how many of these same vets voted for Trump.

Only about half of exiles choose to return to the US where a military record or lack of one meant a great deal in obtaining work. Government work, and some private employers, gave preference to military veterans. If a man had no military history employers wanted to know why. If a man had been in the military, the need for proof of an honorable discharge was required. The thought of a draft dodger getting elected to public office was out of the question…or so we thought.

Does it help? It certainly can’t hurt as long as the celeb that is doing the endorsing is a little higher than a has-been D-Lister, or an organization such as the Taliban.

Is it fair? I’ll defer that question to Paul Newman, outstanding actor/idol, and such a strong advocate of liberal politics and politicians that he made the FBI Enemies List in the Viet Nam Era.

When I was in charge of the stage of Northrop Auditorium early 60s, several times a week prominent speaker was booked for a free noon- speaking engagement. No tickets. No ushers.

The speakers were from all fields, but in those days, the ones that spoke out against Viet Nam involvement and the one pro-Civil Rights were the most popular; but none so popular as a symposium consisting of two pro Viet Nam advocates and two anti Viet Nam Advocates, one of the later was Paul Newman, and a moderator.

Unlike the usual audience of less than a thousand, this one was standing-room -only on the main floor with young ‘ladies’ elbowing their way up the aisles to get closer to the stage, and the balcony was almost half full also. At least 4,000.

It was a well informed and interesting hour, even if most of the audience only listened when Paul Newman spoke. When it wasn’t his turn to speak, he sat listening intently, all the while chewing on his gum. Paul Newman Cool.

I and my student crew had constructed a TV ‘studio’ backstage for a Paul Newman press interview after I pulled the stage curtain shut. Everything went well until one of the TV reporters asked him if he didn’t think it was fair that a famous celebrity like Newman should get involved in something as important as the Viet Nam War. People might agree with him only because he’s a movie star.

I swear the temperature rose ten degrees. Those famous blue eyes blazed. He took out his gum and threw it in a waste basket. He stood up… and Paul Newman spoke.

I can’t quote him verbatim but I can relate the gist of his speech: I am an American man with the right of Freedom of Speech. I am a father with a son that I hope will never have to fight in a war as unjust as this one. I am not a black man, but I am part Jewish and know that we must fight for Civil Rights and condemn the racial and religious hatred that persists in this country.

I am an actor and most people will listen more to me than to a truck driver or farmer, or even a clergyman. Not only is it fair for me to make my views public, it is my obligation. Whether or not they listen and believe in my viewpoint is immaterial. At least I might have opened the door to a different side of the argument than what they are use to listening to. And if I am just singing to the choir I am letting them know that I agree with the songs they are singing.

Thus spoke Paul Newman.

(A little aside from the topic.)

Many of the young ladies in the audience were not interested in going to their next class. They wanted to hang around Northrop to get a glimpse or better yet an autograph of Paul Newman. When one of my student crew was locking up the main auditorium a young lady whispered him aside. She offered him five bucks if he would get the gum that Paul Newman was chewing on. He dug it out of the trash can and sold it to her. Then he and another crew member got a couple packs of gum and after chewing a stick, would offer it in a very discreet manner to a waiting fan. I heard later they started asking ten bucks but dropped it down to five if a phone number came with it. I often wonder what happened to those two bandits. Probably became Social Media zillionaires.)

I purposely tried to avoid any mention of ‘he-whose-name-must-not-be-mentioned’ before, even though he is the most famous draft-dodger at this time, because he is beyond being just a chicken-hawk draft dodger. The way he speaks about veterans, their families, the fact he has done nothing about his good friend, Putin, paying on bounty to the Taliban to kill American military, the fact that both Putin and the Taliban are endorsing him… how can anyone who served vote for such a treasonous person is beyond me. Commander-In-Chief!

And how anybody can vote for a hate-filled who backs the would-be-nazis that are coming out of the sewer at his instigation. Lock Him, (and his friends),Up.

Or vote for one who sees over 200,000 deaths of citizens he swore to protect with the phrase, ‘It is what it is’. As one who moves from bleach injections as a cure to killing off the weak and old ones in the herd. ‘They are what they are’!!!

Enough! Please!

Wrap it.

Stay Safe.

And pray that the sun will shine again.

Oh! P.S. If you are offered a deal on an old wad of chewing gum purported to have been Paul Newman’s, don’t bite, it might be a scam.

LARRY & THE DUKE (III)

The Ghost Light is lit

waiting

Just as Duke Ellington’s life took a dramatic turn in the mid 50’s, Larry Howard’s life had a dramatic change in 1963, the Guthrie Theater opened in May with Larry as the stage-door man. The 60’s saw the Guthrie being recognized as a prominent regional theater, but in the late 60’s it began to push it’s limits and various power struggles in upper management caused both a lose of artistic personnel and audience. It came close to closing for good. In 1969 Don Schoenbaum, only a few years removed from coming to the theater as a Ford Foundation intern was placed in charge of both management and artistic decisions. He kept the theater going and with the help of Sir Tyrone Guthrie managed to lure Michael Langham away from Stratford Ontario and take over as Artistic Director in 1971. Larry Howard’s job was saved as were all the jobs of us working at the Guthrie when Michael took over.

And Larry was only a few years away from meeting the Duke.

Duke Ellington’s last tour began in October of 73 with the first month in Europe, before coming back to the U.S. where it ran almost nonstop until almost the end of March 74. This extreme tour was taken in spite of, or maybe because of, Duke’ health was failing. He had been diagnosed with lung cancer. He never announced anything about it being a farewell tour but he knew it was.

Mercer Ellington, the Duke’s only child knew also. Mercer was a composer, arranger, band musician, band leader both in conjunction with his father and on his own. In the late 60’s he left his personal career and joined his father’s organization as a trumpeter and road manager, and nurse. During a concert when the Duke became tired, Mercer took over on piano and conducting.

It was evident that the Duke was handing over the baton to his son. It was also evident that there was a strong bond of love between father and son. Over the years I had the pleasure of working the Duke Ellington Orchestra with Mercer in charge. Mercer was a gentleman just like his father. And when Mercer was phasing out, he slowly turned over the reins over to his son, Paul, who continues the tradition. I had the good fortune to have worked the three generations of the Duke Ellington Orchestra.

The two concerts at the Guthrie had been moved from January to March 15 and 17. The load-in/setup went smoothly. The concert was great. Sometime in the second half, Duke left the stage and Mercer took over. The Duke returned at bows and the Take The A Train encore piece.

When I went down to the stage to put out the ghost light and wrap up for the night, Joey B, the Guthrie deck hand told me about a conversation between two of the ‘old-timers’ when they were casing up their horns.

One leaned over and asked where the next gig was. When he was told that they had a day off and then came back to this same stage, he laughed and said, ‘Damn, you don’t say. Tonight wasn’t a one-nighter.’

“Nope we can go and jam tonight and sleep tomorrow during the day.’

‘Well,’ the first old-timer replied, ‘I’ll just go to the hotel and sleep tonight and sleep tomorrow too. My bones are tired, man, tired.’

Some of the band did go jamming that night, at the Padded Cell, a small jazz club in Minneapolis, frequented by both local and national musicians and known to lock it’s door at closing time and allow the jam sessions to go well past sunup. Sad to say, the Cell, like all the jazz clubs in the Twin Cities and across the river in Mendota, where I grew up, are long gone.

Michael Langham had the Duke autograph Larry’s book as he promised, but Ellington was very disappointed that Larry had not brought the book to the dressing room in person. From what Michael had told him about Larry, Ellington said he really wanted to meet him. The two worked out a way.

It wasn’t just the band members that enjoyed a day off. Mine was spent with a late sleep before I began my spring yard work. In show business you grab sleep when you can. Like the old timer said, the bones get tired.

When I drove into the Guthrie lot for the second concert, I saw Dawson’s limo parked so Larry could not get out. It was past the time Larry usually left for home. When I walked around the limo to get in the stage door, I could see Larry and the Duke sitting in the back seat, windows rolled down to catch the spring weather. Two elderly gentlemen engaged in conversation. Larry had met the Duke.

Lawson was in the green room when I went in to get some coffee. ‘I never saw Larry smile like that when I opened the door so he could get in with the Duke,’ Dawson told me. He looked at his watch and said in ten minutes he would have to bring Ellington around to the lower stage door, and Larry could go home.

The next time I saw Larry he told me how easy it was to talk to Duke Ellington. ‘It was like we were friends from way back.’ He showed me his copy of Music Is My Mistress that Michael had given him for Christmas and now it had the Duke’s autograph.

The second concert like the first was excellent. The playlist was a little different than the first to keep the musicians from getting bored This time though the Duke didn’t make it through to the intermission.

Joey B. was breaking down things when I got down to the stage. Mercer was looking out the door and one of the musicians was sitting on a chair next to the door.

Joey came over and told me in his stage whisper how the old guy took off his shoe and sock as soon as he came off stage. ‘His damn foot is all swelled up,’ Joey said, nodding to the band member, ‘And it’s green. Green! Looks like hell.’

I took a good look at the man. It was Paul Gonsalves, of the Newport Jazz Festival fame.

After seeing Gonsalves off to the Emergency Hospital, Mercer helped us with the breakdown and supervised us loading everything in the bins of the bus. He told us that he was going to get his father and the Duke always wanted to thank the stage crew. ‘But whatever you do,’ he said, ‘Don’t mention anything about having to send Gonsalves to the hospital. I’ll make up some excuse why Paul isn’t at the next gig, but I can’t tell him how bad he is. Dad just couldn’t handle that news… in his condition.’

Joey B. and I were only too glad to glad to wait and shake Duke Ellington’s hand. Joey commented on how much he liked ‘that good kind of music’, and I agreed and thanked him for his meeting with Larry.

The Duke gave me a smile and said it was his pleasure to meet Larry. ‘He’s quite a man. You here at the Guthrie are lucky to have him. He really had an interesting life. Did you his father was a Buffalo Soldier?’ And then he added, ‘Next time I play here, I’m going to make it a point to take him out to dinner.’

Mercer turned his head so his dad couldn’t see the expression on his face.

Mercer never told his father how sick ‘Strolling Violins’ Paul Gonsalves was. And he never told him when Paul died on 5/15/ 74, eight days before Duke Ellington died. Gonsalves was only 53, but years of drug and alcohol took their toll on him.

When the band left the Guthrie, they played six more gigs, canceling the two at the end of the tour. He died five days after the tour ended. He had his 75th birthday just a few weeks before.

Larry Howard continued to greet people from behind his stage door counter for several more years before he retired. I sadly lost track of him after he left the Guthrie.

I do know he was walking better in his later years. That promise that the young actor/director intern at the Guthrie, David Feldshuh, was fulfilled when David got his medical doctorate

David’s medical doctorate followed his doctorate in theater. Doctor/Doctor David continues his work in theater as a prize winning playwright, nominated in 1992 for a Pulitzer for Miss Ever’s Boys, teacher, and director at Cornell, as well as working in the Cayuga Medical Center with Emergency Medicine as his speciality.

.Currently he is one of the Front Line Heroes in the battle against COVID19.

There’s no people like Show People. They smile when they are low.’

Show people, many of my family member included, were the first to lose their livelihood

when the virus hit.

And they will be some of the last to go back to their profession

And the current ‘leadership’ in the White House and Senate are doing nothing to help the millions of

AMERICANS

on the verge of losing everything.

VOTE!!!

And this is a wrap for the three part Larry & The Duke.

Larry & THE DUKE (II}

Young Larry and his family had a hard-scramble life in the Dakotas. Young Edward lived in a fine house in a good neighborhood in Washington D.C.

The Duke’s father’s artist talent got him a good job making blueprints for the U.S. Navy, and before that served as a White House butler. Both young Ellington’s parents were well known pianists in D.C. and were hired to perform at both private and government functions. His mother specialized in parlor music. His father in operatic arias. Edward started his ‘playing’ the piano at the age of three. At the age of eleven he began to receive lessons from a prominent teacher.

His musical life of light classical began to change around the age of fourteen when he began to sneak into a pool hall to listen to the piano players beating out jazz, ragtime, blues, music that here- to -for he had only heard about.

It was around this time Edward got the nickname Duke. He was a dapper dresser and had casual air about him. His friends thought Edward just didn’t fit him and one of them titled him Duke. The name not only stuck, it replaced his given name.

The Duke composed his first of over a thousand compositions, Soda Fountain Rag. He was fifteen and could neither read or write music. He felt that his skill was not playing piano but composing. He worked hard to learn the mechanics of music. He also began to organize combos and to play at dances. Like his father, Duke was an exceptional artist, so much so he was offered an art scholarship to Pratt Institute; which he turned down because he believed strongly that his music would be his life.

Earning money by day as a sign painter, playing gigs at night. Soon his combo, The Duke’s Serenaders, was playing embassy parties and private functions in D.C. and nearby Virginia, playing for both Afro-Americans and white audiences. The Duke was on his way…

But like all over-night successes in Show Biz it was a lot of hard work and a lot of two steps forward, one step back; and often one forward, two back. The early 1920’s saw him and his ensemble hopping between New York and D.C. with an occasional stop in Atlantic City. His ensemble grew both in size and in quality. His compositions grew and various musicians in his band often took a different approach to a song. Ellington’s musical horizons expanded as did his popularity and respect as both a composer and as band leader.

In 1926, Irvin Mills, a prominent music publisher and jazz artist promoter, came to an Ellington club date to scout the Duke out as a possible client. He was so impressed he signed Ellington that very night. Mills only took 45% of Ellington Inc.. Sounds like a lot today, but it was an unheard of contract between a white agent and a black musician. It was usually that the musician got only 40% or less.

Mills relieved Ellington of the business end that robbed the Duke of time better spent with his music. Getting recording gigs, radio air play, films, and live performances at prominent venues.

On of these venues was the famous Cotton Club where the Ellington Orchestra was house band on several extended occasions, and later as guest artists. It was the Prohibition Era and also the Jim Crow Era. The performers were black and came in through the back door. The audience was white and paid big money while coming in the front door. Ellington was expected to compose and play ‘jungle music’. This segregation at the club ended thanks a lot in part by Ellington.

As the Depression took hold, the recording business suffered; but radio exposed the Duke to a growing audience and tours became the band’s mainstay. Ellington’s compositions during those years, like Mood Indigo and Don’t Get Around Much Anymore, were big hits no matter who sang or played them. Then in 1938, a composer/arranger, Billy Strayhorn, applied to Ellington as a lyricist.

Strayhorn brought Lush Life, a song he composed as a teenager, to show the Duke a sample of his work. He also began to outline different arrangements of a few of Ellington’s work. Duke found his ‘left hand, his right hand’, the missing link in his musical journey.

Like his idol, the Duke, Strayhorn’s musical foundation was classical. His dream was to be a classical composer; but he knew that a black would never be accepted in the classical music world of the day, so jazz became his medium…until he discovered the jazz/classical compositions of Ellington.

The two worked as one, composing in the classical vein of suites. Strayhorn made new arrangements for Ellington’s standards as well as composing songs on his own. The first Ellington recording of a Strayhorn work was Take The A Train which became the signature introduction of the Ellington’s Orchestra. For the next 25+ years the two collaborated, one working on a theme and the other jumping in, until it became impossible to credit either one for the completed work.

The Swing Era/Big Band Era began in the mid-30’s and continued for a good ten years. While the white Big Bands, like Dorseys, Harry James, Glen Miller, took the lead in popularity and money, the black Big Bands, like Ellington, Basie, Cab Calloway, had good years also. Radio, juke boxes, recordings, even cameo in movies, combined to make it a golden age for big band jazz music, black and white. While most of the bands followed a common road, the Duke and his musical compositions took a more serious musical route, not relying only on the tried and true hits of the past.

This route took it’s toll on Ellington’s orchestra after WWII. Swing was replaced by Be Bop and promoters found that small groups, trios, quartets, brought in good audiences at much less cost. Great musicians, like Armstrong and Hampton, broke away from bands and fronted these combos.

It was the birth of Cool Jazz, aka West Coast Jazz. Dave Brubeck’s quartet with Paul Desmond. Gerry Mulligan with Chet Baker. Modern Jazz Quartet. And of course, Miles Davis.

The early 50’s brought a severe revolution in music. Teenagers became prime movers and R&B, Rock & Roll on cheap 45 discs introduced new idols like Presley, Little Richard, Pat Boone, to replace the likes of Sinatra and the Andrew Sisters. Hits and misses in the main stream were often dictated by disc jockeys, often televised, and the Top 40 on the radio was influenced by bribes called payola. Black recording artists were ripped off big time by their white ‘agents’.

Ellington had long fought against the three- minute cut on LP records and there was no room for Ellington’s vision of his music on a 45 disc.. His music needed much more space. His music needed an orchestra not a small combo. His genius refused to lower the bar.

In 1950 he and his orchestra stayed afloat thanks to a Europe tour, set up by the Black- Listed Orson Welles. They did 74 gigs in 77 days. During which he managed to compose music for a Welles’ stage production as well as performing a Welles’ variety show in Paris. While he never played any new personal compositions on tour he managed to finish his extended composition Harlem in his ‘spare time’.

Returning home, times were tough. Dance gigs and concert tours were few and far between. His royalties from his standards brought him the needed money to compose his serious music and to managed to keep his key musicians alive. But by 1955 there wasn’t a record company that wanted him.

And then in the evening of July 7, 1956, a string of unlikely occurrences combined to make a perfect storm that resurrected the career of Duke Ellington and his Orchestra. The Ellington New Port Concert is as an important jazz event as the Benny Goodman Carnegie Hall concert in 1938.

Ellington’s concert wasn’t at a famous venue like Carnegie Hall. It was on the last of a three day jazz festival, a relative new concept in music, at Newport, R.I.. Unlike Benny Goodman, who headlined the famous Carnegie Hall concert in 1938, Ellington was just one of many acts. Unlike the prominent sidemen in Goodman’s orchestra, artists like Harry James on trumpet, Jess Stacy on piano, and of course, Gene Krupa on drums, the Ellington group had lost many talented members, although several came back for the Newport Festival gig, like the great alto sax player, Johnny Hodges. Goodman brought down the house with exceptional solos on the popular Sing Sing Sing. At Newport the audience erupted on a 1938 Ellington composition, Diminuendo And Crescendo In Blue, stuck in the playlist at the last minute, and the astounding solo of a journeyman tenor sax player, Paul Gonsalves. The dancing in the aisles at Carnegie was a spontaneous reaction by the audience. The dancing at Newport during the solo by Gonsalves was done an unknown platinum blonde in a black dress that jumped from her seat and danced her way to the stage.

Gonsalves was hired by Ellington six years before. He had played in many major orchestra but his many addictions cost him work.  Ellington liked having him around because Gonsalves was fond of going out in the audience to perform. The Duke nicknamed him Gypsy,also Strolling Violins.

And this night, Ellington specifically told Gonsalves to take the solo, even though the great alto sax, Johnny Hodges was with them that evening. Gonsalves’ solo lasted for an unbelievable 27 choruses. He was accompanied by Woods on bass and Woodyard on drums with an occasional prompts by Ellington on piano and Ellington’s ‘Dig in, Paul. Dig in.’The audience exploded and the finale featured a high trumpet solo by Cat Anderson. And Ellington and his band were reborn.

Time Magazine loudly proclaimed that fact and honored Duke Ellington with his picture on the cover. To date, Duke is only one of five jazz musicians to be so honored.

Columbia released the entire concert as quickly as possible. It not only became Ellington’s all time selling album, it became one of the jazz world’s best seller. Old time fans like Larry Howard bought one right away. Younger fans, like your truly, got one a few years later through the Columbia Record club.

The royalties from album and his new recording contract with Columbia afforded Ellington the luxury of composing as he always wanted to. He was free to break out of the three minute cuts of LP’s and 45”s. Free to devote time to suites etc. that are played by symphony orchestras world wide. And also the money kept his core orchestra members working, something the other black big bands couldn’t do.

The following year, 1957, was Ellington’s Shakespeare year. The Duke liked Shakespeare. Billy Strayhorn loved Shakespeare. After his success at Newport, he gave a series of concerts at the Stratford Festival in Ontario. He was asked back for another concert in 57 and Michael Langham, the artistic director of the Stratford Playhouse, contracted him to write the incidental music for Langham’s production of ‘Timon of Athens’.

While performing there Ellington was persuaded by the staff at the theater to write a composition inspired by Shakespeare. The end result was his, and Strayhorn’s, 12 piece suite based on works of Shakespeare, Such Sweet Thunder.

The next big step that year was when he and Strayhorn broke the Afro-American barrier in Hollywood sound track. Otto Preminger hired them to compose the sound track for the movie, Anatomy of A Murder. The album won the Grammy Award for best soundtrack. Other movie soundtracks followed.

Suite after suite compositions, some with Strayhorn, others just by Ellington, followed right up to his death. The later years he was working on his Sacred Music suites, deemed by Ellington as his greatest works,. In 1973 his Third Sacred Concert premiered at Westminster Abby in England.

These later years were the busiest and most profitable years of his life. There were the recordings of his new compositions and collaboration recordings with other jazz greats. His old friendly rival, Count Basie, others like Louis Armstrong, Charlie Mingus, Coleman Hawkins, John Coltrain, Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra. His early songs, now standards, were recorded by him and others, producing royalties as never before.

But he never neglected live performances, after all it was live performances that started his career, and comprised a major portion of his life of music. He and his orchestra toured around the world during that period.

His last tour started in July of 1973 and continued thru to March 22, 1974. He knew this would be his last. His health was failing. Lung cancer. Several times events were rescheduled due to illness. One such was the two concerts at the Guthrie, that was moved from January 74 to March74. It was at this second concert when Larry Howard got the meet the Duke.

This is the second in the three part series. The last will follow in a day or so. In the meantime,

STAY SAFE

LARRY & The Duke (1)

Larry Howard was one of the first hired at Guthrie Theater. He spent over two decades as the daytime stage-door man; but he was so much more. He represented the epitome of the saying ‘everybody loved him.’

When a stranger walked down the down the stage-door steps and heard Larry’s warm and honest question, ‘Can I help you?’, the visitor was quickly put at ease. And he was never a stranger again.

Larry had the uncanny knack of remembering faces and names. It was a valuable asset to a stage-door man, but few had it like Larry.

The first time I ever went to the Guthrie was with Bob Gubbins. Bob had worked in the Guthrie set shop the first season, which was located in the basement of the theater. There was an addition to the Guthrie, a decent shop, that had just opened and Bob wanted to see it.

We had just started down the stairs when Larry welcomed Bob by name. It had been five years since Larry had seen Bob.

I was introduced to Larry that day and two years later when I walked down the steps, my first day as a Guthrie employee, the first words I heard was, ‘Hi, Don. Welcome to the Guthrie. I heard you were hired for the running crew.’ His memory amazed me; but more important, it was the start of a treasured friendship.

I don’t think there was any one of the Guthrie family during Larry’s tenure that didn’t treasure his friendship. For most of us a quick greeting or a short conversation made us happier than we were before. For others, especially younger employees, Larry was a surrogate father. Larry was a listener, not a talker and certainly not a judge. He rarely talked about himself.

And if you were hurting with a few aches and pains, one look at Larry and you stopped feeling sorry for yourself. He moved with slightly hunched shoulders and a painful walk. His knees were shot. It was hard to watch him walk on the level. It was sad to watch him go up or down the stage-door stairs. But no one ever heard him complain.

The first parking spot by the stage-door was Larry’s. There was never any sign that said it was Larry’s. It was just understood that Larry did not need a long walk to and from his car.

David Feldshuh was an actor and associate director at the Guth,Arie. He was close to getting his doctorate in theater. His next project was to get a doctorate in medicine.

He often told Larry that when he got his medical degree, he would see to it that Larry’s problem knees would be taken care of. That promise always brought a smile to Larry’s face.

Those years the polite term for Larry was Afro-American; but Larry was at an age where almost all his life he had been referred to as a Negro or a colored. One of the few times that Larry talked to me about his personal life was an eye-opener to me.

Buffy Sainte-Marie, the Canadian Cree singer/composer had performed two concerts the night before at the Guthrie. Buffy had been the first indigenous performer to break into main stream music. Her protest songs against war, such as The Universal Soldier, and against the treatment of the indigenous people, such as Now That the Buffalo’s Gone, propelled her into the forefront of the protest movement.

Her works soon attracted the attention of President Johnson who led the blacklisting of her music on radio. Nixon followed suit when he became president. And of course, J. Edgar Hoover was investigating her before she became know to the public.

The American Indian Movement, A.I.M, had begun and was headquartered in Minneapolis, wanted her to basically turn the concerts into a rally for their movement. She refused. She felt the audience bought tickets to hear her in concert, not in a protest rally. Her songs would stand by themselves in protest. Plus she had misgivings about the violence associated with A.I.M.. Her refusal did not discourage A.I.M. however. Members demonstrated outside the Guthrie with chants and drums. Some members bought tickets to the concerts and broke into chants during her performance, stopping the concerts several times.

She told them off during her show, criticized them for ruining the show for others; but between shows and afterwards, she cried.

The next day when I said hello to Larry, he commented that he read that his people made fools out of themselves at her concerts. Thinking that he thought it was a Black protest, I quickly ‘corrected’ him. I told him it was A.I.M., that had caused the problem, not his people.

Then he corrected me. He said A.I.M. thought to be an Ojibway movement; also had quite a few Lakota Sioux, his tribe, involved with it.

When I said that I never realized he was part Sioux, he told me his mother was half Lakota Sioux and half French-Canadian. (Since my mother descended from French-Canadians, Larry and I might have been related.) He said his father was half Afro-American and half Scotch- Irish. So Larry was a quarter Native American, more than half Caucasian, and less than a quarter Afro-American.

His father had been a Buffalo Soldier, a Black cavalryman, stationed in Montana Territory where he met Larry’s mother. Upon discharge they moved to North Dakota where Larry was raised. Over the years, Larry told me bits and pieces of his life, but I never pressed so I really did not find out much about his past.

Larry loved sports. He followed the Twins and Vikings on the radio. He was the coach of the Guthrie softball team. He told me that he and his brother had held most of the high school athletic records in North Dakota. Records in football, basketball, baseball, and track and field. They also played semi-pro baseball. His brother pitched. Larry was the catcher, a position that contributed early to his bad knees in later life.

Larry loved music, jazz music. When he wasn’t listening to sports he was listening to jazz on the radio.

He knew what stations and what time he could listen to his favorites like Basie, Armstrong, and especially the Duke, Duke Ellington.

Michael Langham, the artistic director at the Guthrie, was also an Ellington fan; and when Michael had been artistic director at Stratford Ontario, he had hired Ellington to compose the incidental music for Langham’s production of Shakespeare’s Timon of Athens. The year was 1957, the year after Ellington’s rebirth. The year that saw Ellington’s rise from a ‘jazz composer’ to be recognized as one of America’s great serious composers.

For Christmas of 1973, Michael gave Larry the newly published book, Music Is My Mistress, by Duke Ellington. It was a coffee-table book, rich with pictures of the Duke, his orchestra, and some of the people that Duke had worked with and admired over his 50 years in the Jazz world. Ellington opened by saying the book was not a memoir, it was a performance. It was the kind of book that one could get lost in, over and over. And Larry did, often, and he told Michael so.

Michael had arranged with the Guthrie Events producer to book Ellington and his orchestra for a concert at the Guthrie. He promised Larry that they would sit together in the best seats in the house. He also promised Larry that he would go backstage and meet the Duke.

The prospect of actually talking to the Duke thrilled Larry to say the least, but Larry knew it was just wishful thinking. Larry’s knees and his overall health wouldn’t allow him to sit for the a concert, no matter how much he would like to.

He thanked Michael, and explained why it couldn’t happen; but asked if maybe Michael could get the Duke to autograph his book.

The distance between the ex Buffalo Soldier’s shanty on the Dakota prairie where young Larry Howard started out and the middle class home in Washington D.C. where young Edward Kennedy,(Duke), Ellington started his life, was far greater than just miles.

About the only thing these two boys had in common in their early years was their love of baseball. Both boys excelled in baseball and both had dreams of someday playing in the Negro League. Larry played before an audience of ranch hands and small town inhabitants. Ellington told of how sometimes President Teddy Roosevelt would stop on his horse back ride and watch him and his friends play baseball.

Ellington’s love for jazz began in his preteens. Larry’s began in his late teens.

This is the first of three parts of LARRY & THE DUKE. The second part will follow in a day or so.

Until then…STAY SAFE

 

OLD JAZZ VOICES

Louis Armstrong had a sold-out gig at Northrop Auditorium at the U of Mn.. The band drifted in from the bus for the sound check, but no Louis. The road manager told me that Mr. Armstrong didn’t take the bus and would be along shortly. I relayed this to Eddie Drake, the Comptroller of Concerts and Lectures. Eddie checked at the end of sound check and did not like it that Armstrong had not made it yet.

Come half-hour and still no Louis. Eddie Drake was getting nervous. The road manager told him no sweat, Louis would along.

The opening act went on and still no Louis. By now Eddie was beyond nervous. The last thing he wanted was to have to call off the show and return the money for the full house. The manager assured Eddie that Mr. Armstrong would show up soon.

The opening act was were playing their encore and Drake was standing in the wings signaling them to stretch it out when I got a call from the Head Usher.

She told me Mr. Armstrong was in the front lobby and asked if I could come up and bring him backstage. If he was still there when the audience broke for intermission they would mob him for autographs.

I told Eddie and he signaled the act to keep stretching.

Drake was waiting when I escorted Louis backstage. He was livid. Normally, after he has a glass of water and vodka, his nose takes on a red glow. The glow was redder than usual and even his cheeks were looked like they were on fire.

He glared at Armstrong and asked why he was so late. But he didn’t wait for an answer. He made a crack about professionals arrive on time.

The manager walked over and reminded Drake that he told him Louis would be coming. And nobody calls Mr. Armstrong unprofessional.

‘Well, Eddie said, looking up at the manager who stood a good half a foot taller than Eddie, ‘Maybe unprofessional is too strong. I should have said it was inconsiderate. He should have been here for sound check.’

Louis, who until then, answered laughingly, ‘Oh, I know how those boys sound. And those boys know how is sound. Sound does right for them, it’ll be right for me.’

‘Mr. Armstrong doesn’t need to be at sound check,’ the manager said,.‘Besides I told you he had things to do and would come when he was finished.’

Drake said that an act should be in the theater at half-hour.

Louis laughed again and said the first half-hour call was for the opening act. He showed up at the half-hour before he had to go on.

I tried not to laugh. Eddie was so angry, even his high forehead was red.

The manager took Louis by the elbow to walk him away; but Eddie wasn’t through. He continued his rant. Louis stopped and turned back to him.

It was evident that Louis Armstrong was having fun. He had that familiar smile on his face and a glint in his eyes.

Eddie threw out what he considered his biggest reason why Armstrong should have been in the Hall with the rest of his band. “What if your instrument didn’t arrive? When you come this late it would be impossible to get you another one in time for the show. Did you ever think of that? Huh? Huh?’

‘Well then I’d just blow one of the boys’ extra horn,’ Louis replied, reaching into his shirt pocket and pulling out his mouthpiece.

‘It’s not the horn, man.’ He held up his mouthpiece. ‘It’s the mouthpiece. Fits my lips good. Always carry with with me so I don’t lose it. Had it since I was jamming on the street for nickles. This is the instrument that counts. Put it in any horn and old Satchmo is ready to blow.’

‘Tell you what,’ Louis continued, ‘Get me an empty peach can. I’ll cut a hole in the bottom, stick my mouthpiece in the hole, and I’ll go deep, seriously deep.’

Eddie shrugged his shoulders, threw up his hands, and went back to his office. He needed another glass of his special water.

Louis turned to the road manager and laughingly asked, ‘Something I said, you think?

‘Yeah, I wonder if you’ll be laughing if he comes back with an empty peach can,’ the manager said. ‘I know I will be.’

PS: The audience got what they came for that night. What a concert! Mr. Louis Armstrong gave us what we wanted to hear… even if he was fashionably late to the theater.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . .

If James Lombard, the founder and ‘Impresario’ of the Concerts and Lectures at the U of MN, had his way the season would be nothing but classical and operatic soloists, artists he looked up to; but the Regents decreed that there be one jazz concert each season. The season after Louis Armstrong, had, in my opinion, two main acts in one concert, Wes Montgomery, great jazz guitarist, opened the concert, followed by Cannonball Adderley on alto sax. Eddie Drake told me it was a package deal. Only nine musicians total in the two groups. He said they alternated as to who opened and who followed.

Wes Montgomery opened. He had broken into mainstream jazz a few years before. He was backed up for this concert by his two brothers, Buddy and Monk and an organist. They didn’t disappoint. Instead of the usual 30 to 45 minutes for the front act, they played a full set, with encores, almost an hour and a half. No jealousy from the ‘main’ act. Most of them were in the wings enjoying the Montgomery boys.

The sad thing was that a few weeks after this concert, Wes Montgomery died of a heart attack.

(Six years later I worked a Duke Ellington concert at the Guthrie, and the Duke died shortly after.)

Cannonball Adderley had also been adopted into mainstream jazz a few years before. He had his brother, Nat, on coronet. Nat was the one constant in any of Cannonball’s quintet. The other three positions fluctuated musicians over the years.

At intermission I was surprised when I saw James Lombard stride in backstage. He never came for concerts he considered beneath him. Later, Eddie Drake told me that Lombard showed up because he was curious to see any one who was named Cannonball.

Lombard always looked the part of an impresario, the man in charge. Tall, broad shouldered, distinguished gray hair. Suits that cried they were too expensive for most men.

He always walked as if all eyes were on him and with his height advantaged he looked down on most everyone he talked to. If you looked up the word pompous in the dictionary, you would probably see a picture of James Lombard.

I was waiting for Lombard to come up to me when Cannonball Adderley tapped me on the shoulder.

‘Hey, man,’ he said, ‘Who do I see about the bread? Never play a gig without the bread upfront.’

I brought him over to where Lombard had stopped. Then since it was a money talk, I walked away, but I didn’t get far before Lombard called me back.

‘Don,’ he said in his low bass voice, ‘Would you send one of your crew to Dinky Town and bring back a loaf of bread? Mr. Cannonball says he has to eat before he goes on.’

Cannonball looked at me and slapped his forehead.

I explained to Lombard that Adderley didn’t want bread bread. Bread was jazz talk for money. He meant he wanted the money upfront before they played.

Lombard stiffened up and said, briskly, ‘He should have said spoken in English. Bread! Bring him down to see Drake. I don’t have time for this nonsense.’ He gave a loud haroomph and walked off stage. He got what he came for. He met the man named Cannonball.

‘Hey, man, is that cat for real,’ Cannonball asked me, ‘Or is he jiving with me?’

I told Cannonball there wasn’t a jive bone in that man’s body. He was born with the stick up his…

‘Cat needs to loosen up,’ Cannonball said. ‘I got some gooooood stuff…bet that would mellow him out.’

PS: Another great concert even if Lombard didn’t hang around to listen.

In these days of darkness, I suppose the method of mellowing out prescribed by Cannonball is a favorite among many people. As for me, I found that my day goes better if I start it out by listening to Louis singing…

WHAT A WONDERFUL WORLD

I see trees of green

red roses too

I see them bloom for me and you

and I say to myself

What a Wonderful World

And that is a wrap for today. Please, please, listen to the medical experts and Stay Safe.

Oh, if you want to read a tale of a famous musician that didn’t make it to the theater on time, here’s one you might get a kick out of:  https://donostertag.wordpress.com/2013/05/18/screamed-james-brown/

COFFEE WITH ALI

This is a reblog of a post I did June/8/2014, right after Muhammad Ali died.

It recalls an isle of calm for me in the sea of fire. Civil Rights Protests. Anti-Vietnam Protests. Looting, destruction, and shouts of blame from both side of the political aisle.

When this incident took place, we had Hope. We knew that once things calmed down the Civil Rights would take hold in fact not just word. And we knew that we would never go to a War again unless it was really needed, and we would never allow the War to last very long.

But like the song says: ‘We were young and foolish.’

I need an isle of calm today so I brought it out and read it. So topical! Topical in that it follows my Dalton Trumbo posts regarding a man standing up for his beliefs, only to be persecuted by politicians whose only belief is pandering to the lowest common denominator. So topical! I wish today’s violent ‘protesters’ could hear the words of Muhammad Ali, a man known for his violent art, speak with the wisdom of Martin Luther King, a man known for his non-violent speech.

There was this old bulll standing in the middle of the railroad track and far away the train was comng fast. But that old bull just stood there and the people all admired the old brave bull. And the train blew a warning…anotherand another as it came full steam head on. And the people oohed and aahed because that old bull never flinched. Just stood his ground…And…

And all those people that oohed and aahed when the brave bull was standing tall in the center of the tracks, just looked around at what was left of him scattered in little pieces for a good miles, yup, all those people who called that bull brave a short time before changed their tune.

Boy, was that bull ever stupid,” they said, and walked away.’

Thus spoke Muhammad Ali talking about Violent Protesting.

Today I have Hope. I believe that when the stupidity of the politicians is removed from the equation, the genius of our medical scientists will find a cure and a vaccine for the Virus. As far as the Civil Rights issue is concerned…Hatred and genocide are embedded deep in the history of this country.

ali rip            The Champ and I spent the better part of an hour, just the two of us, talking and drinking coffee in the stagehands’ room, my office, at Northrop Auditorium at the University of Minnesota.

I called him Champ, even though he no longer had the belt, lost it, not in the boxing arena, but in the political area.He was on a lecture tour, Pro  Civil Rights, Anti  Viet Nam Involvement. Although the latter was the stated reason for taking away his right to be called World Champion, the former had earned him powerful enemies, just as it did for Martin Luther King. Overlooked by the main stream press, the Champ had a third point he stressed, namely Anti Violence. After his speech at Northrop, there was to be  an interview and a Q&A with reporters from TIME. Finally what he was actually saying was  more important than his celebrity status.

Today Americans accept his views; but in the late 60’s, these views were tinder for the fires that were spreading out across the land. But the Champ spoke his piece and stood his ground even though it was highly controversial and had cost him greatly. It wasn’t that he was wrong, it was just that he was ahead of his time. I had always felt strong about Civil Rights; but it really wasn’t until our status in Nam changed from advisory to full scale combative, that I took a better look and decided against us being there.

When the Champ and his welcoming committee walked backstage, he commented on the aroma of coffee coming from the open door of my room. One of the committee said he would run to Dinky Town and get him some coffee. I told the Champ that I would be glad to bring him a cup in his dressing room. He nixed both offers and instead said he wanted to go in the room, drink coffee and relax. When some of committee tried to follow us in, he held up hand. He told them to stay out, close the door, and see to it that nobody bothered him until he came out.

He commented that he realized they meant well, but he was getting tired of the constant ‘meaning well’ pressure of people. He said he was tired of the tour, tired of being away from home, his wife, and especially his little baby girl, Maryum, his first child. He slumped down in the chair, and when I handed him a cup of the fresh coffee, he raised the cup in thanks. I respected his need for silence.

In those days, boxing was followed much more than today. Early TV had free major matches weekly. And sitting across from me was a boxer I had followed since his Olympic days. I remembered listening to a radio as he did something nobody thought he would, take the title away from Sonny Liston. Oh, there was no way I would have called him the ‘Greatest’ at that time. His best was yet to come.

But, that day, I was more in awe of him as a great human being than a great athlete. It takes a brave person to stand up for one’s beliefs the way he did and at what cost.

When he finally did break his silence in the room, he spoke of being afraid his little girl, Maryum, wouldn’t even know her daddy, because he was away so much. She wasn’t even a year old yet, and he heard that the first year of a baby’s life was so important in their life. And she wouldn’t even know her daddy.

I assured him she would know her daddy, even though she wasn’t seeing much of him at this time. I told how I had worked two jobs for years, and now at Northrop, I was averaging over eighty hours a week, and my sons, only four at that time, always knew their daddy. He had nothing to worry about. He smiled and said he hoped so.

He opened his wallet and took out several pictures of his little Maryum and asked if I had any pictures of my sons. He looked at my pictures and wasn’t satisfied until he remembered their names and could match the name with the right boy.

We didn’t talk about his boxing career, about civil rights, and about his refusal to be drafted. We just talked. There was no chucking or jiving, no boasting and poetry on his part. His public image was set aside and he presented his personal side. Just two men, two fathers, talking, taking the time to know a little about each other.

He was interested in what went on at Northrop. I told him about the various attractions: lectures, music, dance, even a week each May of seven different Metropolitan operas on tour and how much work and how many stagehands it took to put them on. The Metropolitan Opera was familiar to him because of where the building was in relation to Madison Square Garden.

We did touch on boxing when I mentioned that recently Paul Newman had been at Northrop talking against our involvement in Viet Nam, the Champ told how much he liked Newman playing Rocky Graziano in SOMEBODY UP THERE LIKES ME.

I related how I got so excited watching Sugar Ray Robinson defending his crown against Graziano on TV, that I knocked over and broke a lamp. He laughed and asked who I was rooting for, and I told him Sugar Ray, my favorite boxer. He said Sugar Ray was his favorite too.

The time flew by. He finished off his second cup of coffee, thanked me, and followed as I led him to his dressing room. Naturally, his committee followed also, ready at his beck and call for anything he might want, or anything they think he might want. As much as I admired the man that day, I wouldn’t have traded places with him. I could see one of the reasons he was tired and just wanted to go home and play with his baby.

My coffee with Ali took place almost a half century ago. I remember seeing his arm raised in victory many times. I remember seeing his arm raised as he lit the Olympic torch. And I remember he raised his cup in thanks for my coffee. I was so fortunate to have sat and had a quiet talk with the man now referred to as ‘The Greatest’.

R.I.P. CHAMP

There were event entering into this story and after; but I will save them for another time. Right now I am too sad because he is no longer with us.

TRUMBO & DENNEHY

In a previous post, BRIAN DENNEHY, I mentioned working with Dennehy when he brought his touring show, TRUMBO, to the Pantages in Minneapolis. The production was based on an off-Broadway play conceived by Christopher Trumbo, son of Dalton Trumbo, screenwriter and one of the blacklisted Hollywood Ten.

The play had two characters, Dalton Trumbo and a narrator. The script is actual letters written by Trumbo and read by the lead actor. The narrator sets it up and offers insights on a few occasions. The lead is on stage throughout. The narrator very seldom. The set is an eight sided wooden table and a chair. The props are copies of actual letters written by Trumbo.

Originally Trumbo was played by Nathan Lane. When Lane left Trumbo was played by a rotating cast including, F. Murray Abraham,(Oscar winner in Amadeus and a favorite of mine from his season at the Guthrie), Brian Dennehy, Richard Dreyfuss, Charles Durning, Christopher Lloyd and others.

There is a documentary, Trumbo, that is similar to the play. There is also a conventional movie, Trumbo, with an all star cast staring Bryan Cranston 4 time Emmy Winner for Breaking Bad, and Tony winner for LBJ. Cranston received an Oscar nomation for Trumbo.

Dalton Trumbo was a high paid Hollywood screenwriter and a respected novel writer. His quick wit and his warmth showed in his work…And his letters.

Like many in the Depression Years, he was a member of the US Communist Party. An anti-war pacifist he sided, in theory only, with the Communists against the Fascists in the Spanish Civil War and in the party’s ideas concerning getting out of the Depression which basically were F.D.R.’s actions that helped to end the Depression.

Eventually he dropped out of the party because of their lack of really doing anything. He stated that the U.S. Communist Party was less of a danger than the Elks, and they had less guns also.

Leading up to WWII, he thought the Russian-Germany Peace Concord would stave off Germany’s aggression. He was an isolationist because he was pro peace, unlike other isolationists like Charles Lindberg who admired the German industrial advances and German efficiency under Hitler.

And then he ran into HUAC….

Dalton Trumbo was not brought before HUAC because of his past Communist affiliations. He was brought after he did a patriotic act.

In 1939,he wrote a novel, Johnny Got His Gun, an anti-war story of a soldier who lost his four limbs in war. It was well received and won several awards. However, I in 1941,when Hitler broke the pact with Russia and invaded it, Trumbo and his publisher felt it was not a time for an anti-war novel and stopped publishing any more.

This caused hate mail to be sent to Trumbo. The writers denounced Jews and demanded that a peace pact be negotiated between the U.S. and Nazi Germany. Trumbo contacted the FBI. Two agents came to his house, but Trumbo soon regretted his actions; because as he wrote, ‘their interest lay not in the letters but in me.’

Then in 1946, he wrote a magazine article from the standpoint of a Russian citizen. He pointed out that the ordinary Russians should be worried about the West’s animosity towards the USSR, and the ‘mass of Western military power surrounding Russia. Something should be done to lessen the hostilities between the East and the West.

This set off a column by William Wilkerson, publisher of The Hollywood Reporter. The title was ‘A Vote for Joe Stalin’ and it named Trumbo and several others as Red sympathizers. He continued to dig up more names and his list became known as Billy’s Blacklist. In 1947, HUAC used the list to summon Trumbo and nine others to appear before it.

The Hollywood Ten, as they were called by the media, refused to recant and name names like the others had done. They also refused to take the 5th Amendment, refusing to testify on the grounds it may incriminate them. This defense became a household phrased in 1950 because of the televised Senate Hearings on organized crime. Instead they depended on the right of free speech guaranteed by the 1st Amendment.

Their reasoning was they had done nothing criminal, which they hadn’t, and therefore to recant would suggest that they had committed a crime by belonging to a ‘Red organization’. As far as naming names like so many others had done, the Ten refused on the grounds that they knew of no one that had committed a crime that tied in with the belonging to a ‘Red Organization’ and questioned if HUAC had any right to suppena them.

Writer-producer, James McGuinness, a right-winger who was regarded as a friendly witness pointed out to the committee that among his many fine screenplays, Dalton Trumbo had written two magnificent patriotic scripts, A Guy Names Joe, and 30 Seconds Over Tokyo. HUAC wasn’t interested. And they weren’t interested in what Trumbo was doing during WWII.

When the US went to war, Trumbo was one of the top screenwriters in Hollywood. He had nothing to fear about being drafted. A married man with children and of an age that was above the draft regulations. Actually, he was two years older than John Wayne. He could have stayed put and continued to write movie scripts. He could have enlisted and probably would have been assigned to writing propaganda or training films. But instead he used his talent and his name to become a war correspondent in the Pacific Theater. Quite a cut in pay and much different working conditions.

When the Allies invaded Okinawa, the longest and bloodiest battle of WWII, Dalton Trumbo, armed with a pencil and writing pad, stormed ashore with the troops. He was under fire constantly for the next 82 days. He sent back dispatches. He wrote letters to the parents of his fallen comrades.

Among the 12,000+ Americans killed in Okinawa, was fellow war correspondent, Ernie Pyle, the most of famous of the WWII correspondents.

But HUAC wasn’t interested in what he had done during the war anymore than they cared about what Sterling Hayden had done.

When Trumbo was sentenced to a year in prison for Contempt of Congress. He appealed but before it reached the Supreme Court, two liberal members of the Court died and two conservatives were appointed. The conservative majority of the new Court voted not to hear the appeal and thus the ruling of guilty by the lower court stood.

After his release, he moved his family to Mexico City where for a year he and other members of the Ten drank and wrestled and used up their savings.

The Trumbo family went back to California where Dalton did what he was best at, namely writing screen plays. He wrote at least thirty using the names of friends as a front. He was adept writing screen plays for all genres, drama, action, crime, noir, western. He wrote for major studies and studios that never got past B movies.

Despite the cloud of the Black List over Hollywood, 1953 was a good year for movies. The highest grossing movie was the Biblical epic, The Robe, the first venture in CinemaScope. Second highest was From Here To Eternity, which got the Oscar for Best Picture and Best Director among it’s eight Oscar wins in 1954.

The sleeper of the year was Roman Holiday, a romantic comedy that saw Audrey Hepburn, a bit actress up until then, win the Oscar for Best Actress in a Lead Role and her great career took off. She also won the Tony that year.

Among the Academy nominations for the picture, Ian McClennan Hunter received two… One for Best Screenplay which he lost to Daniel Taradash for Eternity… The second was for Best Story and that was a winner.

The picture almost never got made because of the rumors that some of the Black Listers might be involved. The name most mentioned was Dalton Trumbo. Frank Capra pulled out of directing it for this reason.

Offered to William Wyler, he accepted with one stipulation, the film had to be shot completely in Rome. He wanted to stay away from HUAC, Joseph McCarthy, and the the witch hunting mentality that prevailed in the US. Thus, Roman Holiday, was the first ‘Hollywood’ film shot in toto outside the US.

The rumor was true. Hunter was a front for his good friend, Dalton Trumbo, a fact Hunter publicly declared when the the List was pretty much a thing of the past. In 1993, long after Trumbo had died, the Academy officially awarded the Oscar to Dalton Trumbo.

Then something happened at the 1957 Academy Awards that pointed to Trumbo once again. The Oscar went to Robert Rich for Best Story. The movie was a little known family picture, The Brave One. And for the only time in Oscar history, no one, either the recipient or a proxy, were present to accept the award. It turned out that Robert Rich was not in the movie business but rather a nephew of one of the producers. Trumbo had pulled off another Oscar while he was on the Black List. This time the Academy managed to give him the Oscar while he was still living. And this was the last year for the Category Best Story.

In 1960 Kirk Douglas and Otto Preminger stood up and shouted, ‘Enough’. They both announced that Dalton Trumbo would write screenplays for each of them, Douglas’s Spartacus, Preminger’s Exodus, using his own name. The Hollywood Black List was over.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Brian Dennehey commented how many times he read the Trumbo letters he was still in awe over their wit and their warmth and Trumbo’s skill. And what the man went through to stand up for what he believed in.

And working with Dennehey I realized that he, like Trumbo, also went through a lot for his art and what he believed in. Dennehey was in pain. His back. His knees. While the blocking called for him to remain seated at the desk while he read the letters, he often stood to read one or two. He couldn’t stay seated for fear when he had to stand at the play’s end, he would have a hard time. ‘I might need you to pull me out of the chair, Don,’ he warned me.

He also had terrible night vision after spending so long under the stage lights. His bow consisted of him standing up at the blackout that followed the bow and exit of the narrator and nodding his head to the audience when the bow lights snapped back on. He could not see anything in the darkness that followed. For him to attempt to leave the stage in the black out was out of the question. He needed help.

I stood in the second wing during the bows. When the lights came up for his bow, I closed my eyes and waited until I heard Brian say, ‘Don’. My night vision was better because my eyes hadn’t experience the brightness for a while. Then I would turn on my penlight hoping it would help Brian get orientated, and walk out onto the dark stage, place his hand on my shoulder and we would exit.

I am amazed that Brian Dennehy could perform on stages in such pain. It was one thing to do Trumbo; but he was doing major theater works of O’Neill and Shakespeare also.

Brian Dennehy was not only an excellent actor and good human being, he was also a man, like Dalton Trumbo, who believed deeply in his ideals and his art, and stood up for his beliefs in them.

R.I.P.

DALTON TRUMBO

BRIAN DENNEHY

And that’s a wrap.

There was more I wanted to say but in light of the Virus and now the looting and destruction going on the last four nights just a few miles from my house, looting and rioting caused not by protesters but by out of state white anarchists, I am not feeling up to writing at this time. Stay Safe. Stay angry and vow to stop these killings of blacks by white cops. Peaceful protesting, not arson and looting.

HUAC/HOLLYWOOD

On June 8, 1950, the US Supreme Court’s Conservative Majority voted

to reject considering the1st Amendment Appeal of the Hollywood Ten.

On June 9,1950, Dalton Trumbo began to serve a year’s jail sentence for

Contempt of Congress.

At once, the cries of injustice sounded through out the land.

But one voice agreed with the verdict…Dalton Trumbo

As far as I was concerned, it was a completely just verdict. I had contempt for that Congress

and have had contempt for several since.’

This is an example of the writing of Dalton Trumbo, one of Hollywood’ greatest screenwriter. His wit and wisdom prevails in the stage presentation of TRUMBO that Brian Dennehy brought to the Pantages that I was fortunate enough to work it. Originally this post was to be the 2nd in my experience working with Dennehy, but I got caught up in my researching the backstory of Trumbo and the Black Listing era. Brian warned me. He mentioned how when he first did research for his acting in TRUMBO, he got carried away and just kept reading more and more. I could not stop either.

Here is some skimming over the top of an American era straight out of Orwell’s 1984…with HUAC taking the part of the Thought Police. The novel was published June 8, 1949, the same day Dalton Trumbo started his jail sentence for thinking.

And today history is repeating itself.

The Constitution no longer applies to the politicians who are above all laws.

. . . . . . . . .. . . .

In 1938, the Congress formed the House Un-American Activities Committee, HUAC, to look into Fascist and Communist activity in America. Basically it was Republicans, the majority party, looking into Left Wing activity and overlooking Right Wing activity.

For instance when asked why it never looked into the Klu Klux Klan, the answer was because the KKK was an old American institution.

In the early days there was a brief excursion into possible Communist activities in the movie industry based on a list of questionable facts; but little came of it except unproven innuendos.

Shortly after F.D.R. began to institute his ‘socialist reforms’ the emphasis was on trying to stop the reforms. It tried it to stop the Federal Government from financing work projects for the unemployed and projects that involved the Arts. The grounds for these actions were masqueraded as a search for Communist infiltration.

Again their attempts were futile, but in many cases very funny. For instance one of the members in his ‘interrogation’ into the Federal Theater Project asked an official if he thought Christopher Marlowe, (2/26/1564 – 3/30/1593), was a member of the Communist Party. Another member said he heard that a Mr. Euripides was preaching class warfare.

The shift towards Hollywood began in 1941 when, at the insistence of Walt Disney, the US Senate looked into Reds in the Motion Picture Industry. Disney, who had a reputation of being an obnoxious hands-on-employer, blamed a strike by his animators on Communist influence. He felt there was no way his ‘boys’ would ever have any grievances against him if it wasn’t for of outside influence. The Senate committee’s investigation was ridiculed in the trade papers and realizing they were being used by Disney to go after the union and certain people who had stood up to him in the past, went no further and dropped the investigation.

In 1945, the neoFacist party, America First, began a campaign to remove the ‘alien minded Russian Jews in Hollywood’. Gerald Rankin, ranking member of HUAC declared, ‘One of the most dangerous plots ever instigated for the overthrow of this government has its headquarters in Hollywood…the greatest hotbed of subversive activities in the United States.’

The election of 1946 put the GOP in the majority of both the House and Senate. Walt Disney, spearheaded yet another attack at the unions in what he called the Communist influence in the motion picture industry.

In 1947, heads of many of the major studios, joined Disney in asking Congress to investigate Communist activities in the industry. This action was actually at the suggestion of a Hollywood union.

Two of the Hollywood union locals had been having jurisdictional disputes. One went on a strike that lasted over six months, during which time the head of the other persuaded the studio the strike was result of Communist infiltration.

The call of the studio heads to investigate had a dual purpose. It could ease the antiSemitism against them and it could break the backs of the unions, technical and artistic.

AntiSemitism is a hatred that can never be eased by Law. And as far as breaking the backs of the unions, the antiUnion publicity did help pass the Taft-Hartley Law, which greatly crippled the union movement. But in the end the Black List initiated by the Studios robbed them and the public of many true artists.

HUAC was more than pleased to conduct an investigation. The Motion Picture Industry would provide a much needed public awareness leading up to elections than looking into Public Theater had done. And interviewing movie stars

It opened the hearings with a ‘friendly witness’, Ronald Reagan, president of the Screen Actors Guild and eventually President of the United States, said he suspected Communist tactics in the way some of the members tried to steer things, but he said the union had things well in hand to counter such actions.

The next day was the turn of another ‘friendly witness’ Walt Disney who regergitated his views for the last several years; Hollywood was under the influence of the Communist threat; and he named names, those men who had the gall to stand up to him in the past.

Then the attention turned to the Hollywood liberal block. Many household names refused to say if they ever belonged to any Red organization or if they knew anybody that did. For a while they had strength in numbers.

Actor Sterling Hayden had told the liberal bloc headed by Humphrey Bogart that he had never been a member of the Communist Party. As soon as he was appointed a member of the bloc’s leadership, it was revealed that he had been a member of the party.

The names of people who had been members of the Communist Party was already known to HUAC. For years the LA Police Department had infiltrated the Party, and two of the Party’s Board were undercover LA policemen.

The forcing of people to name names was nothing more than a show and a sly means of harassment by HUAC. As far as uncovering illegal actives, if the undercover police and FBI agents that ‘belonged’ to the Party, why would HUAC think they could find some.

The organized resistance took a hard blow when the truth about Hayden and others was revealed. Bogart and the bloc felt they had been betrayed by Hayden and others and the bloc dissolved. Every man for himself.

Some, like Orson Welles, Charlie Chaplin, Paul Robeson, and others went to Europe to avoid further harassment and to continue to work.

The Hollywood Ten, who used the 1st Amendment in their defense, instead of recanting or naming names, went to jail for Contempt of Congress.

Families were uprooted. Marriages destroyed. Jane Wyman, Ronald Reagan’s wife at the time of the hearings, said Reagan’s actions both in his testimony and after, destroyed their marriage.

Guilt caused many to resort to the bottle or drugs. No better example was that of Sterling Hayden, actor, author, sailor, and War Hero.

Hayden had been discovered by Hollywood when he was a captain of a yacht. He had just finished his second motion picture when Pearl Harbor was bombed.

Not waiting to be drafted, he enlisted in the Army. He was sent to Scotland for advanced training; where he broke his ankle causing him to be discharged.

He recovered and enlisted in the Marines under the alias, John Hamilton. The Marines sent him to Officer Training School. When he got his commission he was assigned to the fledgling OSS, forerunner of the CIA.

His expertise in captaining a ship earned him the dangerous task of getting through the German blockade in the Adriatic with cargos of arms and ammo to the Yugoslav Resistance. Wanting more direct action he volunteered and parachuted behind enemy lines into Croatia and fought with the resistance. A true War Hero!

His admiration for the Yugoslav partisans he fought with in the war moved him to join the American Communist Party for a brief period in 1946. Called to testify before HUAC in 1951, he admitted belonging to the Party but refused to name any names or answer questions about other members of the party. The FBI threatened him. He was in the midst of a divorce and the FBI told him if he was a hostile witness and if he continued to be a hostile witness and refuse to name names he would lose all custody of his children.

He said he was sorry for ever joining the Communist Party saying it was the stupidest thing had ever done. He gave them names of fellow Hollywood Communists; but those names had already been given by the undercover cops and others, who had already testified. The FBI threats produced nothing new or nothing illegal. The recanting and the naming of names plus his war record saved him from being on the Black List.

But his betrayal haunted him the rest of his life.

When he was diagnosed with prostrate cancer, he neglected any form of treatment. He retreated into the bottle to ease the pain of the cancer but more so the pain of his guilt.

His children said he seemed to welcome his fate.

Hayden died at the age of 70. Suicide, not from commission but from omission.

I was a rat, a stoolie, and the names I named of those close friends were blacklisted and deprived of their livelihood,’ so wrote Hayden in his autobiography, WANDERER.

As for those who testified and named name some used their testimony to gain personal gain. Rumor columnists, Hedda Hopper and Walter Winchell, used it as items in their columns and to declare they were real Americans. Others, like the petty ultra right wing Adolph Menjou, named people he did not like to help resurrect his movie career.

As for those Black Listed some managed to find work through underground sources. Some managed to come back as the Black List began to crumble. Some said the hell with it and found work in other fields.

The Red Scare carried over into TV and radio in 1951. A pamphlet, Red Channels, was published that contained 151 names of entertainers and writers that may have had some ties to Red organizations and expanded to include speaking out against Fascist Spain, the H bomb, anti-Semitism, Jim Crow, civil rights, world peace. In short, the men behind this list said it was a list of well-intended liberals, who allowed their names to be used to support ‘anti-American causes’.

Included were such names as Edward G. Robinson, Dorothy Parker, Lillian Hellman, Leonard Bernstein, and Pete Seeger.

Seeger, folk singer, songwriter, and Activist was brought before HUAC in 1955. Like the Hollywood Ten, his principles would not allow him to lose his rights under the 1st Amendment. And like the Hollywood Ten, the defense failed and he was cited for Contempt of Congress. He got one year on each of his ten different refusals, to be served consecutively. He appealed on 1st Amendment grounds; but the Appeals Court ruled the trial was conducted in such a way that it had to be overturned. He was never retried.

CBS Radio and TV, fearing the loss of advertising revenue, made performers sign a ‘Loyalty Oath’ stating that they were not a member of any ‘Red tainted’ organization. If anyone refused to sign, their name went on the Black List.

All this went on and yet membership in the Communist Party has never been against the law, anymore than membership in the KKK or the American Nazi Party is against the law. Membership is legal. It is acts that are committed under the blanket of an organization such as lynching, bombing, driving a car into a group of protesters, and the like are illegal. There is also the strong legal argument that states HUAC had no right to this investigation in the first place.

The Committee gained it’s biggest triumph in 1948 when, led by the freshman congressman from California, Richard Nixon, later Vice President/ President/non-President, it convicted Alger Hiss, a prime architect of the United Nations, on perjury charges, saying he lied ten years before when he said he had testified he was never a member of the Communist Party. To this day the original charges of being a Communist and guilty espionage rests only on the say so of a very questionable source.

In 1948, J. Parnell, HUAC chairman during much of these Hollywood hearings, was convicted of conspiracy to defraud in a trial unrelated to HUAC. Parnell was in prison before any of the Hollywood Ten.

HUAC was the precursor of Senator Joseph McCarthy’s witch hunt. HUAC strengthened the strangle hold that J. Edgar Hoover, head of the FBI, had on America, on American politics, and to augment his personal hunt into people he disliked, like the Kennedys and Martin Luther King.

HUAC, although a Congressional organization, opened the door for a president to fire and or disgrace people who disagreed with him… For a Justice Department to make rules unto itself even to go so far as taking children from their parents and locking the children in cages or giving them to perfect strangers for whatever these strangers wanted the children for…And for the attitude so  prevalent in America today  that certain individuals are above the law.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Dalton Trumbo:

When you look back at that dark time, as I think occasionally you should, it will do no good to search for villains or heroes or saints because there was none, there were only victims.’

There has numerous articles written on this subject along with a good many film documentaries. There are four major motion pictures that deal with those times.

Guilty By Suspicion – DiNiro

The Way We Were – Redford & Streisand

The Front – Woody Allen

Trumbo – Bryan Cranston

That is a wrap for this post, I hope to get back to Dennehy and Trumbo in the next.

Stay Safe

ARSENIC AND OLD PEOPLE

Reblog 2013

 

It was a Wednesday matinee of Arsenic and Old Lace, at the Guthrie. There was a large contingent of senior citizens.

(I don’t like that term. I guess I am a senior citizen, but I don’t remember every being called a junior or sophomore citizen. Why can’t we just be called old people? Some people don’t like the idea of growing old; but it certainly is better than not getting any older.)

Anyway, the play had reached the critical exposition scene. The two old aunties, played by Barbara Bryne and Virginia Payne*, are telling their nephew Mortimer, played by Peter Goetz, who the dead body in the window box is and why they put arsenic in his elderberry wine, and about the other dead bodies buried in the cellar.

Three senior citizens, a man and two women, came down the center aisle. The man was holding some tickets and looking down the rows. When they reached the moat, the section that separates the audience from the stage, they continued walking along the audience right of the moat. In the booth the stage manager was trying to get a hold of an usher, and the sound man and myself were laughing. On stage the three actors were trying to keep the play going while glancing slyly at the three patrons.

The three stopped walking the moat, and the old man carefully stepped up the steps to the stage. He held out the tickets and spoke directly to Peter. ‘Sorry we are late. Can you help us find our seats.’ An usher ran down the center aisle and offered assistance to the three.

Surprisingly, the audience didn’t react, perhaps they thought it was a part of the play. Up in the booth though, all three of us reacted. We were laughing so loudly the patrons in the balcony turned around to see where the noise was coming from. And the actors!!!

Peter and Barbara lost it. They both headed upstage and faced the scenery. They tried to keep their laughter from being heard but their bodies shaking gave them away. Thank goodness for Virginia Payne.

Virginia had played the other aunt a year before in the Alley Playhouse in Alley Theatre in Houston, so she was familiar with Barbara’s lines as well as hers. She turned what should have been a dialogue between three people into a monologue. It was a work of art. It moved the play along and gave the other two actors a chance to regain their composure.

Later, in the second act, poor Barbara lost it again. She swatted at a fly that was buzzing around her face. The sleeve of her dress got caught on her earring. Naturally, Peter lost it also. Luckily, it was the end of the scene and the blackout gave them a chance to get offstage.

Just as they did in the first act, both got on the horn backstage and apologized to the stage manager for losing it on stage. And in both incidents, the stage manager told them they weren’t alone. The three in the booth were holding their ribs to try and stop laughing.

There were other times during the run where the cast added additional comedy to the already hilarious production.

In the original script, Peter, whose character is a drama critic. When he first enters he says that he has just come from the Bellasco Theatre. The director, after the first preview decided the audiences weren’t literate enough to know about Bellasco, changed it to the Helen Hayes Theater. Sometimes Peter remembered and said the Helen Hayes Theater, and sometime forgot and called it the Bellasco Theater. Once he forgot both names, paused for a second, and finally blurted out the Cloris Leachman theater. That cracked the booth crew up.

The stage manager told Peter how the electrician and the sound man had a beer bet on if Peter would say Bellasco or Helen Hayes. The following matinee Peter came onstage and looked up at the booth and hollered out that he had just come from the Edmond BOOTH theater. Naturally that cracked the booth crew up.

Another time, thank goodness it was also a matinee, the actor, playing the next old man that the aunties picked out for their arsenic elderberry wine, was sick. His understudy had gotten the job, not because he could act, or even remember his lines; but because he was old.

The understudy stuttered. He stammered. He went up on his lines and he had to get whispered cues from the aunties, on what to say next. Suddenly, with still many lines to say, he bolted for the door. He tripped and fell on the two steps leading to the door. His cane cracked a vase glued on a stand next to the door. He tried to open the door in, forgetting it opened out. He pulled on the door so much the set shook and a stuffed bird, that was on a sill above the door, fell and nearly hit him in the head. When he finally got the door opened, he was holding his cane horizontal, which hit the door and the side of the jam, preventing him to exit. Finally he dropped the cane and went out the door. We cracked up again in the booth.

Ken Ruta, who played the evil brother Jonathon, like to see if he could get Barbara to crack up. He got her one time. The aunties admit while his voice is Jonathon’s, his face isn’t. He pulls out a photo to show them how he looked before his plastic surgery. He always had different picture, like Clark Gable or Marilyn Monroe. The time she cracked was a picture of a naked body builder with the face of Barbara’s husband, Denny Spence, superimposed on it.

*Virginia Payne was the one and only Ma Perkins. Ma Perkins was the most successful daytime soap opera on the radio. It was sponsored by Oxydol Soap, and hence the name of soap opera was born. It was so popular that it ran on NBC and CBS at the same time.

 It was the story of an old lady who was loved by all and gave out down home advice. Virginia got the part from the first even though at age 27, she certainly was not an old lady. In the 27 year run, five days a week, Virginia never missed one episode. When the show finally ended, Virginia was the highest paid actor in daytime radio. 

She was Ma Perkins. In the season she was at the Guthrie she was loved and respected by everyone at the theater. She only spent that one season because the next year she was too sick to work. She died shortly afterwards. What a sweet person!

If you want to know more about her and the soap opera, Ma Perkins, go to the Old Time Radio at http://www.otrcat.com.

The old Guthrie Theater has been replaced by a new Theater

that overlooks the river

And like theaters everywhere it is dark

But it will open again

And until then, STAY SAFE.

BRIAN DENNEHY

BRIAN DENNEHY

(July 9, 1938 – April 15, 2020)

Brian Dennehy left behind a large and impressive body of TV, movie, and stage work. And to those of us who were lucky enough to have worked with him, he left behind fond memories of a warm and caring man of great talent.

Dennehy had turned 81 in July. Kenny Rogers, singer/actor, who died recently, turned 81 in August. And a little aside…And I turned 81 a couple days after Rogers. Three of the natal class of the late summer of ‘38 who became old vets of show business.

Brian was an actor who always made the TV or movie better for him being in it. He seldom had the lead in film, usually playing as a major costar on one side of the law or the other. He was one of those actors that people recognize right away but always seem to forget his name. ‘I think it is Brain Keith…No. No. Can’t think of it right now but I really liked him in…’

His obituary says he is best remembered playing a sadistic sheriff in the Rambo movies. I would not know because I tried to watch a Rambo movie on TV years ago. I don’t remember if I even finished it. I was not impressed. But there was so many shows he was in that I enjoyed. I guess the two FX’s are my favorites. Or maybe in Presumed Innocent, or maybe Gorky Park, or…Like I said he was a fine actor who brought so much to the work.

His most ambitious body of work was in the 6 TV movies where he played the lead, Jack Reed, a Chicago homicide officer. The first he just played the lead in a two parter based on a popular true crime novel. The next came about because he of his persistence to get out another Jack Reed TV movie. In the last 5 he wore many hats, lead actor, writer, producer. They were all low budget fictional films, but they showed the true picture of Brian Dennehy as he was in real life, a man-left-of-center who stood up for his beliefs.

They also showed the pain Dennehy worked with, the result of his old football injuries. This pain is shown in the details of his blocking especially in A Search For Justice. Every chance he gets he is leaning on something. He seldom is seen walking more than a few feet. Sometimes when he is standing you can see how tightly he is holding on a piece of furniture.

He must have really suffered when he was on stage for a lengthy time.

His film work was overlooked for awards, but he received 6 Emmy nominations for his TV work. His biggest award in TV was a Golden Globe win for his Willy Loman in a taped presentation of his Broadway hit, Arthur Miller’s The Death of a Salesman.’

This performance on Broadway earned him his first Tony Award as Best Actor In A Play. He took it to London where he was awarded the Olivier Award. His second Tony for Best Actor in a Play came a few years later for his James Tyrone Sr. in Eugene O’Neill’s masterpiece, A Long Day’s Journey To Night. Both plays were initiated at the Goodman Theater in Chicago, which was home base for Dennehy’s regional theater work. Other regional theaters benefited from his love for the stage. And many of them bestowed awards on him for his work.

Dennehy performed at the Abbey Theater in Dublin playing Hickey in O’Neill’s The Iceman Cometh. He played a full season at The Stratford Festival in Ontario, Canada’s leading theater. He played in Shakespeare’s All’s Well That Ends Well, and a double bill of one acts, Beckett’s monologue Krapp’s Last Tape, and O’Neill’s almost monologue Huey.

A few years later he returned to Stratford to play Sir Toby Belch in Twelfth Night and the lead in Pinter’s The Homecoming, the first Pinter play ever done at Stratford.

He was dubbed by the theater world as the foremost living O’Neill actor. And in 2010 he was inducted in the American Theater Hall of Fame.

His first love was theater, and his income from TV and movies provided the monetary means to work in theater in plays written by the great playwrights. When asked what was his secret in doing such fine work in theater, he replied that walking with giants brought out the best in him.

Dennehy was prolific in his charity work. He contributed both money and time to what he considered to be worthwhile causes.

I worked with him at the Minneapolis Pantages when he played a shortened week’s engagement in the play Trumbo. From the time he walked into the building until he left, he was open, friendly, and went out of his way to show his appreciation of the crew. It was as if we were old friends.

(I have much more to tell about both working the play with him and the play itself; but I will hold off and relate it in the next post: DENNEHY/TRUMBO.)

Working in show business, it is amazing how many people I met. There was always new crews, casts, designers, etc., I came in contact with. For the most part, outside of the area of the business, I had little in common with most of them. Not so with Brian Dennehy.

I knew a little about him before I worked with him. I learned more about him when I worked his short engagement in Minneapolis. But it wasn’t until I did research for this post that I found out how much the two of us have in common outside of show business.

There is the close proximity in age, six weeks difference, and in physical stature; and our lives are filled with so many similarities…

Brian was raised in an East Coast Irish strict Catholic family. Mine family was Midwest German/French strict Catholics.

Nuns were involved in our elementary schooling, Catholic teaching Brothers in our high schools. Reading books of all kinds was a major part of our lives from early on. In college we pursued Liberal Art degrees, Brian…History. Mine… American Studies.

We both enrolled in Catholic colleges that recruited us for their football programs, with the same result, knee injuries in our freshmen year that came back to make our older years a real pain trying to walk. Disgusted, we both dropped out of college our first year.

It was in the Cold War times, and the draft was in place. Not waiting to be called we volunteered Draft. He went in the Marines. I was a paratrooper. Both of us in esprit de corps outfits. When we got out we continued our college pursuits.

Marrying young was something Catholics did in those days. Dennehy married is first wife, he had two, in April of 60. I married my one-and-only in April of 61. We both have five children and have remained very close to all of them. Both of us are proud grandfathers.

Wild in our early years, we had a drinking problem and when we matured we quit drinking…Cold turkey. Not an easy thing to do in show business. We also both avoided drugs which were prevalent in the business.  

Brian was a stock broker in the New York office of Merrill Lynch. I started out as a teletype operator in the St. Paul office of Merrill Lynch. I switched to another firm and got my stock broker’s license. We both hated that work and got out of the business – for good.

We went back to blue collar work, truck driver, laborer, etc., to support our families. Eventually we both got into show business. I became a stagehand, quite by accident, when I was almost 30. Dennehy became a professional actor, after years of amateur acting, when he was almost 40.

Once in the business, neither of us was content to be pigeon-holed. Brian Dennehy expanded into producing, directing, writing, in TV. I was a stagehand in live events and a gaffer in film, as well as a lighting designer, a union officer, and even had a one-act play published in a national magazine and performed in several places. We both preferred working on stage over TV or movies. Especially the works of Shakespeare, O’Neill, Miller, Beckett and other giants.

Like I said, Brian Dennehy and I had a great many things in common over our lifetimes.

Movie goers and TV viewers have lost a fine actor. Theater lovers have lost a great actor. His world has lost someone who made it better for having been born in it. And all of us who had the pleasure of his company, albeit for a short time, are left with fond memories.

Thank You, Mr. Brian Dennehy

And that’s a wrap.

Coming soon: Dennehy/Trumbo

Stay Safe

THE GAMBLER

The Gambler got dealt Aces and Eights, the Dead Man’s Hand, and he folded.

Kenny Rogers – 8/21/38 – 3/20/2020

Kenneth Ray Rogers was the fourth of eight children, born poor, in Houston, Texas. He was the first of his family to graduate from high school. He was the only one that leaned toward music as a hobby, let alone a career.

Rogers attributed Ray Charles as the biggest influence in his musical career. When Rogers was 12, his school sent him to a Ray Charles concert. The first time he never saw a live music performance and the first time he ever heard Ray Charles. He decided that whatever he did in life, music would be a part of it.

Most of us in those years discovered ‘our music’. It was a radical movement that did not sit well with parents and older generations. It was the biggest step to identifying teenagers as an influencing force and consumer bloc. And Texas Kenny Rogers took an independent fork in music from his elders just as Texas Buddy Holly did.

Rogers started a do-wop group in high school that had a mild hit and appeared on American Bandstand. He then became stand-up bass in a jazz trio. Joined a folk group, The New Christie Minstrels, as bass player and singer. Following the break up of the Minstrels, he joined with some of them to form The First Edition, which quickly became Kenny Rogers and The First Edition. Followed by just Kenny Rogers.

Although Rogers musical roots were Country, he didn’t think of Country music as a road to travel until after the success of Ruby Don’t Take Your Guns to Town. He opted for the middle of the road, mellow country. His choice was influenced by Don Williams; and in turn Rogers influenced Garth Brooks, both as a musician and as an entrepreneur. Rogers had a few hits and a few honors with his style; but he also had rough times.

His skill with both bass guitar and stand-up bass got him work as Nashville studio musician. At a low point in his career, he performed in a small casino in downtown Las Vegas. Little did he know that before long he would be headlining in the big casinos on the Strip; and he would be a main attraction in the Branson, Missouri music scene, and have some of the most popular tours ever.

In 1978 his world exploded. He heard a song, The Gambler, on a Bobby Bare album and even though it never took off for Bare and several others, including Johnny Cash, whose version came out after Rogers, Rogers not only covered it, he had it lead off in his sixth album, which also included his hit, She Believes In Me. The Gambler cemented Rogers as the first big country/pop crossover artist, and gained him fans not only in both genres, but also all over the globe. His fans were ‘legion’ and very devoted. His career hard times were over.

In an interview in Billboard, Rogers said, ‘I’ve always been too pop for country and too country for pop

What ever niche he made for himself, it worked. He was the first country singer to sell out big arenas. He lent his name to a fried chicken franchise, later to slot machines in casinos, he recorded an CD that was only sold in Cracker Barrels along with other of his CD’s. And he branched off to starring in and producing TV movies, starting with The Gambler. He wrote a memoir and a novel. He developed into an excellent photographer. He also tried different approaches in his singing career.

Kenny Rogers recorded duets with pure country singers, Dottie West, later, Dolly Parton and others. He seldom ventured from his middle of the country road, but he did in a few instances. He made a jazz/standards album. Just one. He broke the Country limits and collaborated with artists like Lionel Richie and Barry Gibbs. He was the prime mover behind 1985’s charity song, We Are The World, with 45 musicians of the entire music spectrum.

And he combined his biggest musical influence, Ray Charles,  for many memorable duets.

Since I only worked him in the old Met Hockey Arena, and not a smaller venue, I never had a chance to know him like I did with other performers; and I confess the strict way he controlled his tour shows left a bad taste in my mouth. I just felt he owned his audience more than he gave them.

Rogers performed in the center of the arena, a ‘show-in-the round’ and had audience on all four sides. His set was a square doughnut with the performer working on the four sides of the stage and the band and some hands down in the pit in the middle. Clever concept.

He had two opening acts rather than the customary one. The first act was a lesser known country singer or group. For instance, he used Larry Gatlin of the Gatlin Brothers on one tour. In Roger’s big hit The Coward of the County, the villains were named the Gatlin Brothers. Rogers just sang what somebody else wrote, but Rogers had deep pockets, and the Gatlins sued. They dropped their lawsuit against him shortly after he hired Larry as a front act. It gave Larry Gatlin’s career a boost when he used him as an opener. Heck, Gatlin made it all the way to be a commentator on Fox news.

The second act was always a change of pace. For instance, Susan Anton. This particular show I had Harley, an older shop stagehand, recently divorced, never really worked a lot of live performances, as Anton’s mic- cable pager. At the end of the intermission house lights went out, a roadie, leading the way with a flashlight, ran Anton the stage and made certain she was standing on her glo-tape mark. The spots then opened up on Susan Anton.

Harley had never heard of Susan Anton, actually I don’t think he ever heard of Kenny Rogers either; and when he saw her, standing on the stage above him, barely three feet away, he froze. Mouth-open froze. Then as she started to move along the stage, Harley did not move. He neither followed her with the mic-cable or released some from the coil in his hand. Just kept staring.

She reached the limit of her available cable and saw Harley just standing there. ‘Oh, I think I got a bite,’ she ad-libed. ‘Oooh,’ she squelled, imitating reeling in a catch, ‘And it is really a big fish.’

I quickly headed over to take over from Harley just as Susan bent down and whispered in his ear. Harley’s face turned four-alarm-fire red and he broke out of his trance and paged her cable like he suppose to.

Over the years I never brought up that frozen act to Harley, but I did ask him a few times what Susan Anton whispered in his ear. Each time, Harley got red-faced, but he never did tell me what she said to him.

As I said, the band was also in the pit. Nice people. Sharing. Both before the show and during intermission they passed around a coffee can. It was half filled with snow, coke, cocaine. I passed on it and so did the other local hands, I think, but it was a nice sharing gesture.

The opening acts came on stage in blackouts. Kenny Rogers appeared by magic. Since we didn’t have to sign a paper saying we would never reveal the secret of the trick, like David Copperfield demanded, I will tell you how it was done.

There was a large work box on casters that 2 roadies pushed into the pit during intermission and pushed out of the pit at house lights came up at show’s end. Only it wasn’t what it looked like. It was a Houdini box. It opened like a steamer trunk standing erect opens. Inside was a comfortable seat. Rogers got in it in his dressing room and later in the end of show black out. Nice effect and no chance of any fans on the main floor interfering.

Both front acts had a time limit as did the intermission. The part I disliked was the exact-to-the-second time limit on Roger’s set. At the end of each song the audience clapped loud and long, not realizing that they were cutting into the time Rogers actually sang.

He had 4 clocks in the pit so he could see the time no matter where he was on the stage. As the time came for the last song, he worked his way to the stairs leading to the pit. Once that minute hand reached the important twelve, Kenny Rogers stopped singing and the arena went black. Now I mean he stopped singing…He didn’t finish the song; hell, he didn’t finish the word of the song he was singing.

And that is the reason for my bias. Granted, the audience still got the average amount of time for the show, but they didn’t spend the big bucks for two opening acts; they paid to see Kenny, and not what amounted to a half a performance by him.

Black out! Silence! The fans break loose, waiting for an encore, clapping, a few with lit cigarette lighters. The house lights go up. The audience still waiting for an encore. Too busy to see the roadies push a ‘work box’ up the ramp to where a window tinted car sat before the garage door. When the car pulled out of the building, walk-out music came over the PA, and the hands began to work. No encore or closing words. Not even an Elvis-like message, Kenny Rogers has left the building.

No question his fans loved him though. His shows sold out. His CD sales are among the most of any single artist. They watched his TV movies, in spite of the reviews.

And Rogers was loved by those in the industry. He may not have been strictly Country but when he won his many awards in Country Music shows, and his induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame, his peers gave him his due respect and honest applause. This sentiment crossed-over to include friends in all musical genres.

His touring band, Blood Line, remained with him all the years. They enjoyed working with him. He must have treated them well. I don’t know if the can of snow was a tip from Kenny, or just a sign he was paying them enough to be able to pop for it.

Rogers was loved by five different women enough that they married him, even if four divorced him. The last marriage lasted 22 years and ended with his death.

Every one who knew him said he was a plain, sensible, down-to-earth likable man, who never forgot his roots, recognized it was not only hard work and talent that got him his success, it was also luck. And fame can be fleeting.

In an interview he said: ‘I equate this business to a mountain climber. Once you get up there, you can’t live on the top.’

The list of worthy charities he supported is quite impressive. He was helping the homeless before it was popular. Parkinson’s Disease, Disaster Relief, and the list goes on and on.

You know, the more I write about the man, the more I begin to lose my bias against him. If his fans didn’t hold his short shows against him, who am I to complain. Not only did I not have to pay to see the show, I got paid for working it. His shows made myself, my family, and a great many other stagehands nice paychecks over many years.

There’s a great many of his songs that I enjoy, although I don’t have any of his work in my music library. And I can’t remember watching any of his movies. Never ate any of chicken from his franchise, but by his own admission, neither did he. Still in all…

I  confess I changed my mind. I am convinced I would have liked him as a person. I really do.

Adios, Gambler. Adios.

‘Cause every hand’s a winner

 And Every hand’s a loser

And the best that you can hope for

is to die in your sleep’

STAY HEALTHY. The lives you save maybe the lives of those you love the most.